Q&A with Jaclene Zauszniewski, Nurse Researcher

Jaclene Zauszniewski Each year, about 2.6% of the US adult population lives with bipolar disorder1 and family members who provide care to those individuals are subject to unique stresses. APNA Member Jaclene Zauszniewski, professor and nurse researcher at Case Western University, recently received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct one of the first studies of ways that these caretakers can maintain and improve their health. We spoke with Jaclene about her research and the importance of nursing research in general. 

Q: Could you please give a brief snapshot of your research?

A: My newly funded research study will examine the effects of different strategies for caregiver health self-management in a sample of family caregivers of persons with bipolar disorder. We will be examining the effects of providing what is considered “usual care” for such family members, a bipolar education program to a cognitive-behavioral intervention, called resourcefulness training, and a biofeedback intervention focused on heart rate variability. The study will also help us to disentangle whether providing an intervention based on the caregiver’s “need” (defined by cut scores on assessment measures) or “preference” (selection of intervention they prefer) is superior to “usual care” or receiving no intervention from us (i.e. “control”).


Q: What interested you in researching caregivers’ emotional and mental health?

A: My program of research has focused on promoting the mental health of caregivers for more than two decades. I believe that family caregivers play a major role in ensuring that their family member remains as healthy as possible, whether they are living with a mental or physical condition or both.The care provided by family members, which ranges from direct/personal care to providing emotional support and guidance, can cause overwhelming stress over time that subsequently affects the caregiver’s health. Yet, if the family caregiver becomes ill and is no longer available or able to provide the care and support needed by their family member, this can lead to negative outcomes in their care recipient that may include deterioration in their health or the need for institutional placement.Thus, my goal is to develop strategies to maintain caregiver health so that they can continue in their caregiving role without experiencing adverse effects on their own health.


Q: What implications do envision your research having for psychiatric-mental health nursing practice?

A: The study of family caregivers of persons with bipolar disorder will inform us about which self-management interventions work the best and for whom and under what conditions in terms of reducing caregiver stress, preventing health risks, and promoting mental and physical health. We will find out whether assessment measures can be useful in determining the need for a particular intervention that then has positive effects on the health outcomes. We will [also] learn whether simply asking caregivers what intervention they would prefer to have yields the best or similar health outcomes. The interventions that we are testing can eventually be used by psychiatric and mental health nurses who work with family caregivers of persons with bipolar disorder in the community.


Q: What are the biggest opportunities you see for this field of research?

A: The findings from the currently funded study of family caregivers of persons with bipolar disorder, who are known to be highly distressed, will be highly relevant for other caregiver populations. In addition to the specific implications that our findings will have for our population of interest, we expect that the model that we are testing in the study, which will examine differences between no intervention, a “usual care” intervention, and interventions delivered based on caregiver “need” or “preference,” may be generalizable to other populations of caregivers, including caregivers of persons with autism, dementia, cancer, etc. Examining the usefulness of providing interventions based on need or preference is consistent with the precision medicine initiative that dethrones the “one size fits all” approach to health care.


Q: As a recipient of one of the NIH’s National Institute of Nursing Research grants, what impact will grant funding have on your research?

A: Funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) will allow my research team to conduct our research with sufficient monetary resources to obtain the data needed from the number of family caregivers required for rigorous testing and analyses of our study hypotheses. Funding from NINR also indicates that the scientific community is in support of the need for this study, which gives recognition, validation and credibility to the study.


Q: What advice do you have to young and future nursing researchers?

A: It is important for psychiatric-mental health nursing researchers to continue to pursue funding for research. Our literature is replete with small studies that have small sample sizes. Many of [these studies] appear to suggest promising results, but definitive conclusions beyond the recommendation for future investigation in larger, more diverse samples cannot be made. However, the lack of sufficient funding opportunities with appropriate funds for conducting more rigorous research to build our science has a direct impact on the research that we do. Perhaps we might consider less of a focus on a specific population of interest (i.e. psychiatric diagnosis) or on issues specific to psychiatric-mental health nursing issue (i.e. mental health) and think more about how what we wish to investigate fits into the larger picture of nursing and health sciences. Ask the questions: How might my research fit into the [grant sponsor's] priority areas for research? Is there a way I might tailor or re-package my research interest in a way that also fits the [grant sponsor's] priorities?


Inspired to conduct research of your own? Check out information about applying for an APNA Research Grant to receive a grant of up to $10,000 to conduct your study. Learn more about past APNA grant recipients here.



1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/bipolar-disorder-among-adults.shtml

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