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Exploring diversity in nursing research

By Sharon Gray | Sept. 30, 2008

The theme of Nursing Research Day 2008 was Diversity in Nursing. Keynote speaker Dr. Kärin Olson, University of Alberta, spoke on Diversity in Nursing Research: An Invitation to Consider the Big Picture.

The research day was held Sept. 27 at the Health Sciences Centre and hosted by Memorial’s School of Nursing, the Centre for Nursing Studies and the Western Regional School of Nursing (Collaborative) Program.

Dr. Olson has a background in both quantitative and qualitative research methods and has worked in both academic and clinical research environments. Her current research interests in advanced cancer and palliative care focus on behavioural responses of patients and families to fatigue.

Dr. Olson said there are differences between tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion and that recognizing those distinctions will help health care workers create better treatment plans for their patients. She has studied fatigue in ill and non-ill populations: shift workers, recreational long distance runners, individuals with cancer in active treatment or palliative settings, and individuals diagnosed with depression or chronic fatigue syndrome.

“For my cancer patients if I can figure out why fatigue develops I can help them have a longer life with good quality. If we can help with their fatigue there is an increased likelihood they can finish their planned treatment.”

By getting cancer patients to describe what their fatigue is like, Dr. Olson can compare their descriptions with the experience of fatigue in patients with depression and recreational runners to find core elements and construct a model. 

"When you start looking at other populations, such as people with chronic illnesses or shift workers and take a broad view, the descriptions of fatigue are the same. Thus, while the reasons for fatigue may vary, the kinds of adaptations required may not.”

Dr. Olson said every new cancer patient should have a complete dietary assessment to ensure they are getting enough protein. They should also have their sleep quality assessed and every effort made to improve sleep – such as no caffeine in the evening, not watching TV in bed, and minimizing napping – before sleeping pills are considered. Most importantly, patients need to create regular routines and keep some of their energy for activities that give them joy.

Dr. Olson said the important thing is to try to prevent or at least delay the progression from tiredness to fatigue and then from fatigue to exhaustion. "We are starting to work on some interventions that we think may be helpful. In the meantime, families and friends can help by recognizing changes consistent with fatigue and exhaustion and look for ways to help minimize stress."