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Nursing school receives NIH grant for new chronic illness center

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Holly Korschun

Emory University's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing has received a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish a new research center for chronic illness.

The Center for Cognition and Affect in Chronic Illness will focus on the symptoms of emotional and cognitive decline commonly associated with chronic illness. The center will promote and support research into the biological and behavioral basis of how chronic illness can influence patients' thoughts, decisions and emotions.   

The center is one of NIH's Centers of Excellence in Symptom Science Research. At these centers, research is expected to expand through interdisciplinary collaboration and shared resources and expertise.

"This award signals the exceptional quality of nursing science at Emory, the critical role nurses provide in the management of patients with chronic health conditions, and the importance of understanding how cognitive decline affects that care," says Linda McCauley, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean and professor of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases cause seven out of every 10 deaths in the United States and are among the most costly and preventable health problems. 

Diabetes, Alzheimer's and other chronic illnesses are associated with decline in cognitive function as well as 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.   

The center will bring together interdisciplinary nursing research programs focused on understanding and better treating chronic illness. It will be led by Associate Professor Drenna Waldrop-Valverde, PhD, a licensed psychologist specializing in neuropsychology. Her research focuses on how chronic illnesses, including HIV, affect patients' brain function and ability to practice self-care.

"As the U.S. population continues to age, the prevalence of chronic illness and related cognitive and affective symptoms will also increase," Waldrop-Valverde said. "This center will help advance our understanding of the complexities of chronic disease management and the critical role that nursing can play in helping patients and their families manage their conditions."

In March, the School of Nursing received a separate NIH grant related to chronic illness. That $1.5 million grant is training nurse scientists to develop clinical interventions for patients with chronic illness.

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