Youthful hands gently hold wrinkled fingers, painting on bright pink nail polish. It is one of only a few visits some of these senior citizens will get in a senior home.
Founded on Long Island in 2000, GlamourGals is a national volunteer organization of high school and college-aged students that give makeovers to citizens living in senior homes across 16 states.
“The experience allows you to interact with a senior and have a conversation and learn about them, learn about their history, learn about a time you will never have lived through and that history would have been lost if the senior hadn’t shared it with anyone else,” Rachel Doyle, founder and CEO of GlamourGals, said.
The latest population counts estimate that there are 46.2 million Americans over the age of 65, which is about one in every seven Americans, according to the Administration on Aging. This number is expected to double by 2060.
The GlamourGals offer seniors the option of either a manicure, a facial or makeup. Manicures include hand lotion, nail filing and nail polish. Facials include a cleanser and moisturizer. Makeup includes foundation, blush and lipstick. The organization says their volunteers never do hair or use eye makeup or sharp tools during the makeovers.
“It sounds very simple, but a lot of times choice is eliminated in senior homes,” Doyle said. “The choice of when you eat, the choice of when you go to sleep, the choice of what activity you can do, the choice of how you spend your time. Then all of the sudden in this conversation you have a lot of choices as a senior.”
The national organization provides supplies, including disposable applicators, to the official chapters. Products are donated by individuals and beauty supply companies who have partnered with GlamourGals, like BeautiControl and Skinfix.
“We have several residents that come down for every single makeover,” Klaire Alge, vice president of the Hancock County Glamour Gals chapter, said. “They tell us they look forward to it all month, and that is something I find absolutely heartwarming.”
Doyle said the beauty product options are simply a tool to spark conversation between volunteers and seniors.
“A lot of people in senior homes are not visited,” Doyle said. “You can go in and embrace someone, give them a hand massage, sit there and look directly in their eyes and say, ‘You are worthy of my time.’”
The organization currently has nearly 100 chapters, and Stony Brook University recently joined the ranks when senior biology major Britney Dhautal started a new chapter this school year. Having been involved with the organization in high school, she sought it out when she transferred to Stony Brook and was surprised to find the club had not yet been instituted. Despite not having participated in club fairs, the Stony Brook chapter has already accumulated 15 members.
“I hope other people are able to have the experiences I’ve had at these nursing homes,” Dhautal, the current president of the Stony Brook chapter, said.
During her high school experience, Dhautal met a senior citizen named Dorothy. She recalled her being the “life of the nursing home,” always cheerful and excited. Dhautal said it was easy to assume this woman had led an easy life. It was not until she got to know her better that she learned this was not true.
Nursing homes have the highest number of residents diagnosed with depression among long-term care providers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that 49 percent of nursing home residents are diagnosed with depression. The lowest were hospices where 22 percent of residents were diagnosed.
“At first, it’s actually quite overwhelming because it’s sometimes upsetting when you come to realize just how much loneliness and isolation is such a predominant issue within a nursing home,” Dhautal said.
When Doyle first started GlamourGals, she did so to honor her grandmother who had passed in a home far from her. After being turned down by homes for not having an adult in charge or company sponsors, she began making calls and receiving donations. The very first makeover was done with herself and two friends at a nursing home in Commack, New York. Since then, Doyle said she has done thousands of makeovers.
During one of those makeovers, one woman Doyle attended to did not smile or speak. Doyle said she felt as though she had failed her. Later, she received a call from the nursing home’s activities director, who told her that the woman had been depressed recently and would not eat. After Doyle’s visit, the director said that the woman finally had a meal.
“The residents have varying reactions,” Alge said. “Some are quiet, they’ll come down and get their nails done, then return to what they had been doing before. Others like to stay and talk. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes, but you can see in their expressions that they are truly grateful.”
The Stony Brook chapter of GlamourGals recently coordinated with Atria South Setauket, a local senior living community, and is awaiting the arrival of their makeover products. Dhautal said the first makeover visit will be in December and she hopes students will join them in connecting to the senior community.
“They offer a lot of advice and life stories and honestly, sometimes they just want someone to talk to and someone to just be their friend,” Dhautal said. “I think as a high school student and even as a university student, getting to play that role is an amazing opportunity.”