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2020 APNA Award for Excellence in Research

Olimpia Paun

Olympia Paun, PhD, PMHCNS-BC
2020 APNA Award for Excellence in Research

That family members and caregivers of dementia patients experience adverse mental health affects is widely acknowledged. But once a loved-one is placed in Long Term Care, what happens to the mental health of the decision-makers? Olimpia Paun, PhD, PMHCNS-BC, wanted to find out. Her curiosity and empathy developed over many years of treating persons with Alzheimer’s Disease or a Related Dementia (ADRD) and compelled her to examine mental health effects on the caregiver. This body of work is one of the reasons she is the recipient of the 2020 APNA Award for Excellence in Research.

Olimpia recounts the early days of observing these individuals: “I was wondering what kept them going, day-in-and-day-out, and what kind of meaning they found in their caregiving.” Further studies would reveal the severity of health consequences for this group. “Caregivers suffer mental and physical health effects that place them at risk for premature death, such as increased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and chronic grief (e.g. sense of loss, guilt, and role captivity),” explains Karen Jennings Mathis, PhD, CNP, PMHNP-BC, one of Olimpia’s colleagues.

“I see the current context as a great opportunity to turn our focus on these older adults…”

Olimpia, who is a Professor at Rush University College of Nursing, investigated these mental health impacts on caregivers by observing the effects of a program she created called Chronic Grief Management Intervention (CGMI). Jennings Mathis explains, “The overall aim of her program of study is to develop a chronic grief treatment that will be adopted in long term care facilities as part of routine support for Alzheimer’s disease (or a related dementia) caregivers. Such treatment will impact public mental health for this growing segment of caregivers.” Colleague Mona Shattell, PhD, RN, FAAN, observes, “Olimpia’s work with this population is extremely valuable as the number of family caregivers has exponentially increased over the past decade or so.”

In addition to the increase in our aging population, circumstances around the current pandemic are factoring into her research about grief. “As my team and I are in the process of further testing the CGMI-Video, we are witnessing increased levels of caregiver grief and depression as they navigate the pandemic challenges,” says Olimpia. “A few caregivers in our study who already lost their loved ones to COVID are gradually moving into the bereavement stage.”

Olimpia sees that older adults are more affected by the pandemic than many other groups, but she hopes this unfortunate distinction will lead to some positive outcomes. She states, “I see the current context as a great opportunity to turn our focus on these older adults and their families to support their mental health.”