Researcher Hopes To Boost Support and Spirit of Dialysis Patients

New York, NY
March 5, 2007

During his residency at Duke University, George Washington University Renal Fellow Scott Cohen grew attached to a dialysis patient named Fannie. The then-25-year-old resident admired the 60 year old patient. He liked how kind she was and how she handled the challenges imposed by her various diseases with dignity and a lack of self-pity. Cohen also noticed how much it cheered her up when he spent extra time with her, and how it helped her family when he took the time to explain Fannie's condition and treatment. "She had very little social support and was very sick," says Cohen, now 29.

Fannie passed away, but Cohen, a Miami native, who graduated from the University of Miami School of Medicine, decided to honor Fannie and all dialysis patients by designing the first-ever pilot study of a social support group intervention to be carried out in a rigorous, randomized fashion. Translation: He wants to prove scientifically what he and many others believe, that dialysis patients suffer a greater degree of depression than the general population and that a social support group intervention will help improve their emotional well-being and quality of life, as well as improve their physical outcomes.

"We believe social support can improve virtually every aspect of patients’ health and care," he says. "We believe dialysis patients who have received a social support intervention will have decreased levels of depression, more hope, will be more likely to take their medication, listen to their doctor's advice, come to dialysis, eat better, and talk with others with chronic kidney disease. All these factors may increase long-term survival." Cohen, who also is working toward his MPH degree at George Washington University School of Public Health, says his NKF grant has helped him recruit 40 patients in a randomized controlled study, in which 20 participate in support groups made up of 5 to 6 patients, and the remaining 20 dialysis patients receive the standard care. The study has been underway for six months, and Cohen hopes to expand it soon to the Veteran's Administration Hospital. Cohen's dream is that every dialysis center will have a support group for its patients.