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A shampoo, blow-dry and some health advice

September 8, 2009 |  3:06 pm

Hair stylists do more than make us look good--they can also be a confidante, friend, shoulder to cry on, and advice-giver.

Ibpodzkf That's why a team of researchers from Ohio State University decided to study the relationship hair stylists have with their older clients, and see how that relationship could ultimately improve the health of those clients. And what a relationship they have--among 40 stylists in the Columbus, Ohio, area who filled out surveys, more than half said they felt very close to their older clients. Said one stylist, "I have been seeing some of my clients for almost 40 years, so I have become very close, like family."

Part of that closeness comes from the information clients share about their personal lives. According to the survey, stylists said clients talk about physical health problems, family, financial and emotional problems, and anxiety and depression.

The stylists didn't just listen--they offered support and sympathy, tried to cheer up their clients, gave advice, and often tried to get their clients to speak with someone. The stylists felt they were able to spot signs and symptoms of depression, dementia and self-neglect. Almost two-thirds said they would refer older clients to a mental health expert if necessary, but some said they didn't know much about such services in their community.

"We can't expect them to do everything, but our results suggest that most stylists care about their clients and would be willing to help them," said Keith Anderson, co-author of the study and assistant professor of social work at Ohio State University. Anderson believes there could be a program that encourages stylists to identify mental health and other issues in older clients, much like the "Cut It Out" program that enlists salon workers to spot warning signs of domestic abuse and refer clients to local service.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times