LAWRENCE — Skye Leedahl, doctoral student in social welfare from Minot, N.D., is one of two students in the nation to receive the John A. Hartford Dissertation Fellows Award for her research of the social world of older adults in nursing homes.
The two-year award, administered by the Gerontological Society of America, provides up to $50,000 for Leedahl’s research, which is focused on 30 nursing facilities in a 15-county region of northeast Kansas.
“I’m looking at the social networks, support and activities of older adults in nursing homes and how this relates to their emotional well-being and functional health,” said Leedahl. “Older adults can be at risk of social isolation and loneliness in part from loss of friends and family but also because of perceptions of nursing homes. Historically, nursing homes have been cut off from the wider world by both institutional walls and societal segregation.”
Leedahl plans to interview about 120 residents and 60 administrative staff members for her study.
Adults age 85 and older is the fastest growing population in the United States. Leedahl hopes her findings will be a step toward helping older adults who need long-term care engage in their communities to help optimize emotional and functional health.
In November, Leedahl plans to present initial findings at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America in Boston.
Leedahl says improving the quality of life in nursing homes is a long-term passion. As a high school student and an undergraduate at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, she worked in nursing homes as a nurse aide.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in 2005, she accepted a graduate research assistantship at KU’s Gerontology Center and enrolled in the master’s degree program in KU’s School of Social Welfare. Since then, she has worked with top KU gerontology researchers, including Rosemary Chapin, social welfare professor and director of KU’s Office of Aging and Long Term Care, and David Ekerdt, professor of sociology and director of KU’s Gerontology Center.
A paper she wrote with Ekerdt and Terry L. Koenig, associate professor of social welfare, on “Social Organizations and Aging: The Benefits of VFW Membership” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work.
She earned a master’s degree in 2007 and hopes to complete the doctorate by spring 2013. She also works as a graduate teaching assistant in social welfare.
The Hartford dissertation award supports research in gerontological or geriatric social work as well as supplemental academic career guidance and mentoring, professional development through institutes and cohort building and peer networking.
Leedahl said that the Hartford award allows her to reimburse those she interviews. She also received a KU Graduate Studies Summer Fellowship to help with travel costs for her study. In July, she had completed interviews at about half of the 30 nursing homes that are participating in her study.
She and her husband, Lane Leedahl, have a two-year-old son, Finn. Skye is the daughter of Don and Carrie Folkert of Minot, N.D., and Peggy and Scott Thompson of Devils Lake, N.D., and granddaughter of Tom and Gwen Moller in Rugby, N.D. Her mother-in-law, Glenna Leedahl, resides in Grand Forks, N.D.