Heather Elizabeth Whitson


Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience

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

  • Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience
  • Professor of Medicine
  • Professor in Neurology
  • Professor in Head & Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences
  • 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: +1 919 660 7500
  • 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

  • Reese, M; Wong, MK; Cheong, V; Ha, CI; Cooter Wright, M; Browndyke, J; Moretti, E; Devinney, MJ; Habib, AS; Moul, JW; Shaw, LM; Waligorska, T; Whitson, HE; Cohen, HJ; Welsh-Bohmer, KA; Plassman, BL; Mathew, JP; Berger, M; Markers of Alzheimer’s Disease and neuroCognitive Outcomes after Perioperative Care (MADCO-PC) Investigators, , Cognitive and Cerebrospinal Fluid Alzheimer's Disease-related Biomarker Trajectories in Older Surgical Patients and Matched Nonsurgical Controls., Anesthesiology, vol 140 no. 5 (2024), pp. 963-978 [10.1097/ALN.0000000000004924] [abs].
  • Abadir, P; Whitson, H, Geriatric research through the lens of AGS/NIA U13: Two decades of interdisciplinary dialogues that have propelled the field., J Am Geriatr Soc, vol 72 no. 5 (2024), pp. 1623-1626 [10.1111/jgs.18810] [abs].
  • Cevik, SE; Skaar, DA; Jima, DD; Liu, AJ; Østbye, T; Whitson, HE; Jirtle, RL; Hoyo, C; Planchart, A, DNA methylation of imprint control regions associated with Alzheimer's disease in non-Hispanic Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites., Clin Epigenetics, vol 16 no. 1 (2024) [10.1186/s13148-024-01672-4] [abs].
  • Hreha, K; Samper-Ternent, R; Whitson, HE; Downer, LP; West, JS; Downer, B, The Association of Vision and Hearing Impairment on Cognitive Function and Loneliness: Evidence From the Mexican Health and Aging Study., J Aging Health (2024) [10.1177/08982643241247583] [abs].
  • Bowling, CB; Berkowitz, TSZ; Burrows, BT; Ma, JE; Whitson, HE; Smith, B; Crowley, SD; Wang, V; Maciejewski, ML; Olsen, MK, Trajectories of Physical Resilience Among Older Veterans With Stage 4 CKD., Am J Kidney Dis (2024) [10.1053/j.ajkd.2024.01.529] [abs].