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Heather Elizabeth Whitson

Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience
Medicine, Geriatrics
Duke Box 3003, Durham, NC 27710
Dept of Medicine, Durham, NC 27710


Dr. Whitson's research is focused on improving care options and resilience for people with multiple chronic conditions.  In particular, she has interest and expertise related to the link between age-related changes in the eye and brain (e.g., How does late-life vision loss impact the aging brain or cognitive outcomes?  Is Alzheimer's disease associated with distinctive changes in the retina, and could such changes help diagnose Alzheimer's disease early in its course?).  Dr. Whitson leads a collaborative Alzheimer's Disease initiative that brings together investigators from Duke University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, with a bold vision to transform dementia research and care across Eastern North Carolina. Dr. Whitson is also interested in improving health services to better meet the needs of medically complex patients.  Within the Duke Aging Center, she leads research efforts aimed at promoting resilience to late-life stressors (e.g., surgery, sensory loss, infection).  She has developed a novel rehabilitation model for people with co-existing vision and cognitive deficits, and she is part of a inter-disciplinary team seeking to improve peri-operative outcomes for frail or at-risk seniors who must undergo surgery.  As a co-leader of a national resilience collaborative, she seeks to better understand the biological and psychological factors that determine how well we "bounce back" after health stressors.

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience · 2024 - Present Medicine, Geriatrics, Medicine
Professor of Medicine · 2020 - Present Medicine, Geriatrics, Medicine
Professor in Ophthalmology · 2020 - Present Ophthalmology, Vitreoretinal Diseases & Surgery, Ophthalmology
Professor in Head & Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences · 2021 - Present Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences, Clinical Science Departments
Professor in Neurology · 2022 - Present Neurology, Clinical Science Departments
Director of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development · 2008 - Present Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Institutes and Centers

Education, Training & Certifications

Duke University · 2009 M.H.S.
Cornell University · 2000 M.D.