60-Second Science

Hairdressers Hear Health Secrets

A report in the Journal of Applied Gerontology shows that elderly people often discuss health issues with hairdressers, who could encourage clients to seek medical attention. Karen Hopkin reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

If you’ve ever been to a hairdresser, chances are you’ve found yourself scrambling for things to talk about as your locks are expertly coiffed. One common topic of discussion, at least for older Americans, is their health. Which leads social scientists to conclude that hairstylists may be in a unique position to encourage their clients to seek medical attention.

Keith Anderson, a professor of social work at The Ohio State University, started to study seniors’ relationships with their stylists after hearing such sessions referred to as “salon therapy.” He conducted a survey of hairdressers near the campus and found that clients often unburden themselves to stylists who offer a sympathetic ear along with a trim and highlights. More than 80 percent of salon workers surveyed said that their older clients share their problems during appointments, results published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

The problem, of course, is that hairdressers aren’t equipped to offer medical advice, although two thirds say they’d be willing to refer clients to someone who can help. Given that medieval barbers were also surgeons, getting stylists back into primary care should be pretty cut-and-dried.

—Karen Hopkin

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