School of Education News

UW-Madison’s Smedema awarded pilot grant from National Multiple Sclerosis Society

September 05, 2018

UW-Madison’s Susan Miller Smedema was recently awarded a pilot grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for a project that examines ways to help people with the disease bolster their quality of life.

Smedema is an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, and is the director of the rehabilitation counseling master’s degree program.

The research project is titled, “Character Strengths as Buffers against the Negative Effects of Multiple Sclerosis.”

Susan Miller Smedema
In people with multiple sclerosis (MS), Smedema explains how research has shown fatigue, depression, and level of disability are all associated with reductions in individuals’ quality of life (QOL). In addition, studies indicate that people with MS who have a poor QOL demonstrate greater disease progression and deterioration over time.

This research project will investigate if individuals with MS who have specific strengths of character -- such as creativity, perseverance, gratitude or hope -- may be protected against negative effects of MS.

Smedema explains that previous studies have found that specific character strengths protect people with physical illnesses from reductions in quality of life, and therefore such strengths may be good targets for intervention in people with MS. 

Participants in this study will complete a survey measuring 24 different character strengths, depression, fatigue, disability and QOL. The character strengths identified as most strongly protecting participants from poor QOL can then be targeted in the development of interventions geared toward helping individuals with MS develop those strengths to maximize their quality of life and improve their psychological, social and physical outcomes.

“I am hoping that the results of this study will be the foundation for the future development of an online training program for individuals with MS, to help augment those character strengths found to protect people from the negative impact of MS,” says Smedema.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s pilot research grant program is designed to support “high-risk pilot grants to quickly test novel ideas. Funding is provided for one year to test innovative, cutting-edge ideas or untested methods, and to gather sufficient preliminary data to apply for longer-term funding.”

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