Kent State nursing researchers receive $421,993 NIH grant

Headshots of Drs. Sheehan, Stephenson and Was.
Drs. Denice Sheehan (Principal Investigator) and Pamela Stephenson (Co-Investigator) from the College of Nursing and Christopher Was (Co-Investigator) from the Department of Psychological Sciences at Kent State University received a $421,993 grant award on April 30, 2020, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) for their study, “Interactions Among Adolescents with a Parent in Hospice and the Hospice Care Team.” Other members of the research team include Karen Hatfield (Site Principal Investigator and Hospice Volunteer Trainer) and John Bailey (Site Coordinator) from Hospice of the Western Reserve, Murray Mayo (Hospice Volunteer Trainer), Lisanne Bright (doctoral student), Will Grayson (undergraduate student), and Lee Ellington (consultant). This study will identify areas of adolescent discomfort related to communication about the ill parent, caregiving responsibilities, and need for social support so that hospice volunteers can encourage open communication and provide a supportive environment in which teens may receive information and ask questions, serving to minimize distress and improve coping skills.

Adolescence can be a challenging time during the best of circumstances, but adolescent family members with a parent in hospice comprise an especially vulnerable population. In addition to grief and distress, they may experience unresolved feelings of social isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and uncertainty about what their future might hold. These lingering emotions are often compounded by caregiving responsibilities at home and the desire to maintain a sense of normalcy with school and friendships. Although hospice care strives to be family-centered, the hospice care team may not have the knowledge, experience, or opportunity to communicate effectively with adolescent family members with an ill parent.

The goal of the study is to improve adolescents’ communication with the hospice care team to encourage meaningful conversations between hospice volunteers and adolescents during home visits. Dr. Sheehan and her team will analyze data from three groups of stakeholders—adolescents, well parents, and hospice volunteers—to gain a deeper understanding of how to best help adolescents during the ill parent’s final months of life. Research findings will generate clinical evidence of adolescent needs and hospice care team responses, leading to development of best-practice guidelines, interventions, and educational tools. More effective communication between adolescents and the hospice care team is imperative to achieve the support adolescents need during this difficult time for improved emotional well-being and more positive long-term outcomes.

Drawing from her expertise in the areas of hospice nursing, end-of-life care, and parentally bereaved adolescents, Dr. Denice Sheehan, PhD, RN, FPCN, Interim Dean and Associate Professor for the Kent State University College of Nursing in Kent, investigates provision of care for hospice patients and their families, including coping skills of adolescents experiencing the life-limiting illness of a parent. As an oncology nurse and later, a hospice supervisor, Dr. Sheehan noticed that adolescents with a parent in hospice rarely interact with the health care team and could benefit from more effective strategies to manage grief during and after the loss of a parent. Her subsequent research as a doctoral student and nurse scientist examined interactions between adolescents and their family and friends and care provided to adolescents by the hospice care team. Dr. Sheehan continues to examine compassionate, family-centered hospice care to help providers develop effective interventions for adolescents to improve long-term physical and mental health outcomes. She consults with her teen advisory group, young adults whose parent died when they were adolescents, to design innovative, clinically relevant studies. As part of the interdisciplinary palliative care research team at Kent State University that includes Drs. Pamela Stephenson, Dana Hansen, Amy Petrinec, Clare Stacey (Sociology), and Jen Taber (Psychology), Dr. Sheehan has conducted numerous studies with hospice patients, their adolescent children, family caregivers, and the hospice team.  

POSTED: Friday, June 26, 2020 - 4:16pm
UPDATED: Friday, August 21, 2020 - 10:15am
Denise Karshner