Heather Elizabeth Whitson


Professor of Medicine

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.  

Appointments and Affiliations

  • Professor of Medicine
  • Associate Professor in Ophthalmology
  • Professor in Ophthalmology
  • Director of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development

Contact Information

  • Office Location: Dept of Medicine, Durham, NC 27710
  • Office Phone: (919) 660-7514
  • Email Address: heather.whitson@duke.edu


  • Duke University, 2006
  • Duke University, 2004
  • Duke University, 2003
  • M.H.S. Duke University, 2009
  • M.D. Cornell University, 2000

Courses Taught

  • NEUROSCI 494: Research Independent Study 2

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Sloane, PD; Whitson, H; Williams, SW, Addressing Hearing and Vision Impairment in Long-Term Care: An Important and Often-Neglected Care Priority., J Am Med Dir Assoc, vol 22 no. 6 (2021), pp. 1151-1155 [10.1016/j.jamda.2021.04.024] [abs].
  • Blalock, DV; Maciejewski, ML; Zulman, DM; Smith, VA; Grubber, J; Rosland, A-M; Weidenbacher, HJ; Greene, L; Zullig, LL; Whitson, HE; Hastings, SN; Hung, A, Subgroups of High-Risk Veterans Affairs Patients Based on Social Determinants of Health Predict Risk of Future Hospitalization., Med Care, vol 59 no. 5 (2021), pp. 410-417 [10.1097/MLR.0000000000001526] [abs].
  • Zhuang, J; Madden, DJ; Cunha, P; Badea, A; Davis, SW; Potter, GG; Lad, EM; Cousins, SW; Chen, N-K; Allen, K; Maciejewski, AJ; Fernandez, XD; Diaz, MT; Whitson, HE, Cerebral white matter connectivity, cognition, and age-related macular degeneration., Neuroimage. Clinical, vol 30 (2021) [10.1016/j.nicl.2021.102594] [abs].
  • Cohen, AB; Parks, AL; Whitson, HE; Zieman, S; Brown, CJ; Boyd, C; Covinsky, KE; Steinman, MA, Succeeding in Aging Research During the Pandemic: Strategies for Fellows and Junior Faculty., Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, vol 69 no. 1 (2021), pp. 8-11 [10.1111/jgs.16868] [abs].
  • Oyeyemi, DM; Cooter, M; Chung, S; Whitson, HE; Browndyke, JN; Devinney, MJ; Smith, PJ; Garrigues, GE; Moretti, E; Moul, JW; Cohen, HJ; Mathew, JP; Berger, M; MADCO-PC Study Team Investigators,, Relationship Between Depression/Anxiety and Cognitive Function Before and 6 Weeks After Major Non-Cardiac Surgery in Older Adults., Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology (2020) [10.1177/0891988720978791] [abs].