A closer look at cognition and chronic illness


Without question, nurses see their share of patients and families affected by chronic disease.

Diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, HIV, and other chronic illnesses are associated with cognitive decline and higher rates of depression and anxiety. How patients think and feel about their health can make them less able and motivated to practice self-care.

A new center in the School of Nursing aims to generate new understanding in this area. Funded with a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Center for Neurocognitive Studies (CNS) is led by neuropsychologist Drenna Waldrop-Valverde PhD. CNS will promote and support research into the biological and behavioral basis of how chronic illness can influence patients' thoughts, decisions, and emotions. It is one of three new NIH Centers of Excellence in the nation that will generate new knowledge in symptom science research through interdisciplinary collaboration and sharing of resources and expertise.

CNS is partnering with one of them—the Adaptive Leadership for Cognitive Affective Symptom Science (ADAPT) Center at Duke University—to study cognition and affect in chronic disease. Each is taking a different tack. Emory is focusing on identifying symptoms and understanding their causes, while Duke is undertaking a more functional approach in helping families manage symptoms. The two centers have begun sharing resources. This past year, Duke hosted three research-focused simulcasts in which Emory participated. In the coming school year, Emory will offer simulcasts for ADAPT center colleagues.

Waldrop-Valverde expects CNS to grow into a "one-stop-shop resource for research related to cognitive and affective symptoms associated with chronic disease" at Emory to complement local and national studies. Potential partners include Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the Sibley Heart Center, the Side by Side Brain Injury Clubhouse, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, the Interactive Autism Network, the National Database for Autism Research, the Emory Center for AIDS Research, and the Emory Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

"As the U.S. population continues to age, the prevalence of chronic illness and related cognitive and affective symptoms will also increase," says Waldrop-Valverde. "CNS will help advance our understanding of the complexities of chronic disease management and the critical role that nursing can play in helping patients and families manage their conditions."—Sally Wolff King 79G 83PhD

Table of Contents

Cover of Emory Nursing Magazine