Fall 2014 Research Spotlight - Archive

Research Spotlight

School of Nursing faculty member and researcher has dedicated her nursing career to improving care outcomes for the elderly

Dr. Allison Burfield has dedicated her nursing career to improving care outcomes for the elderly.  Starting in 2001, she worked with an interdisciplinary research team evaluating how to reduce the use of medications in the elderly that have an altering effect on perception, emotion or behavior, because these medications put the elderly at increased risk for falls and injury.   This research also evaluated conversion to safer medications to use in the elderly.  Dr. Burfield's career goals have been focused on building educational modules and educating others on safe medication use and care of the elderly with dementia—especially better ways to assess pain, prevent falls, and evaluate the effects of chronic pain. 

"I have always cared deeply for the elderly.  Growing up in rural town outside of Athens, Georgia, I volunteered at area nursing homes when I was a teenager.  I wanted to become a nurse, as I always felt patients with dementia were struggling to communicate a need that I just could not understand.  Becoming a nurse allowed me to gain a better understanding of cognitive decline and dementia.  Later in my career, working as a psych liaison in the emergency department for a large hospital system, I identified a need to educate others on delirium and dementia and the importance of ruling out medical sources before ruling in mental health ones.  I have a vested interest in making complex symptoms more understandable, I think this carries through into my clinical teaching also."

In 2009, Dr. Burfield earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing from the University of Central Florida (UCF), College of Nursing.  She completed her undergraduate work at the University of Georgia (UGA) and earned an associate degree in nursing from Athens Technical College.  She completed her BSN in 2000 and MSN in Leadership and Management in 2006 at UCF along with a certificate in nursing and health professional education.  She was a Provost Fellow for her Doctoral work and Merit Fellow for her Master’s work at UCF from 2005-2009.  Dr. Burfield was a 2010 Hartford Institute Geriatric Nursing Research Scholar, and was selected by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) as an emerging researcher to participate in the 2011 Summer Institute.

Her recent research has centered on pain behaviors in the elderly in long-term care, care transitions, falls prevention, pharmacotherapeutics, and interdisciplinary care coordination.  The ultimate goal of her work as an outcomes researcher is looking at ways to improve pain assessment and treatment in long-term care along with developing interdisciplinary education, service and research projects focused on older people.  She has practiced clinically in psych mental health across the age spectrum, clinical trials, and managed care.  Dr. Burfield's research integrates clinical teaching to demonstrate models of evidence-based care to develop interdisciplinary research and student implemented education programs within the community.  Dr. Burfield also facilitates education opportunities within the community for undergraduate and Health Services Research Doctoral (HSRD) students to provide community connections and service learning to reduce the stigma of mental illness bridging a connection with homeless and underserved populations in the Mecklenburg County area.
Burfield Examines Relationship of Chronic Pain and Cognition on Social Engagement in Elderly

Dr. Burfield is currently extending her most recent research to examine the relationship between pain, cognition and social engagement in residents residing in long-term care. 

"We have a large population of elderly that we are poorly assessing for their  pain, much less effectively intervening to treat their pain, especially those with dementia.  Examining the effect on social engagement can further stress the need for prompt and clinically appropriate interventions."

The provision of care to approximately 1.8 million elderly residing in long-term care is difficult due to co-existing diseases and chronic pain.  Having strategies to detect, develop, and implement programs to maintain cognitive health and treat pain become a priority not just for the individual, but also for society as a whole. 

Social engagement is a critical element to promote quality of life and is the contact and interaction with others that provide social support.  Social engagement is a vital aspect of healthy aging and has been found along with physical and mental exercise, nutrition, and stress reduction to promote and retain cognitive health.  Cognitive impairment and social support are independent risk factors for mortality—cognitive vitality is also essential to maintain quality of life and survival in old age. 

A lack of willingness to socially engage in activities has a direct effect on mortality, and may represent hidden health issues—this information is invaluable in predicting future healthcare needs and enable more pointed preventive measures to promote improved health.  Over time, low levels of social engagement are linked to higher death rates, yet data from large-scale longitudinal studies are lacking to provide basic information on social engagement in long-term care.  This is the aim of her current research project, to gain clues that can lend important information into how chronic pain and cognition influences the elderly to socially engage with others. 

Dr. Burfield has several publications on the care of the elderly.  She plans to continue her research to improve care outcomes in the elderly, and has a strong interest in clinical teaching methods, secondary dataset analysis, health policy, and pharmacoeconomics.