Researcher spotlight: Sharon Kaasalainen
Sep 6, 2022
The treatment of residents in long term care homes has come under the spotlight during the Covid pandemic, and not in a good way. Researcher and nursing professor Sharon Kaasalainen says the virus has proved lethal for long term care residents and laid bare major deficiencies in the existing system.
The crisis is far from new, though. Trying to improve the quality of living and dying in long term care has been a focus of Kaasalainen’s research for two decades. “This is a very under-served, under-resourced, under-researched area,” says Kaasalainen. “The potential to have an impact is big, because there is so much room for improvement and so few resources available to them.”
Kaasalainen first conducted formal research in this area during her doctoral studies, where she explored pain assessment and dementia.
In 2002, she joined the School of Nursing as an assistant professor and became a full professor in 2018. She has held the inaugural Gladys Sharpe Chair in Nursing since 2020.
Kaasalainen leads large research studies across Canada and internationally. One study, funded by the CIHR grant “Scaling up the Family Carer Decision Support Intervention”,aims to help to prepare families caring for people with dementia for end-of-life decisions. “This study is part of a larger research funding program coordinated by the European Union,” she explains. “Six countries are involved in this study and will each implement and evaluate the Family Carer Decision Support (FCDS) intervention. This intervention aims to help inform family caregivers about end-of-life care options available for people with advanced dementia. Ultimately, we hope to prepare family caregivers more about what to expect so that they can feel better about their decisions later on when death is near for their loved one.” The study was on hold for one year due to Covid, but it is active again and will be completed soon.
Despite the challenges in long term care, Kaasalainen remains hopeful that things can improve. “Why can’t we make long term care homes more like hospices, where people feel privileged to live and die in and we know they receive quality end-of-life care,” she asks.
Although the subject matter of her research is sobering, Kaasalainen enjoys the work, particularly, she says, “working together as a team with other like-minded researchers.”
The advice this seasoned researcher gives to budding researchers is three-fold: “Find good mentors. Get involved in research as much as you can. And focus on areas you are passionate about.”