Research Reports - Reduced heart rate variability in traumatic brain injury and association with impaired emotional and social functioning

Neuropsychol Rehabil. 2015 Jan 28:1-23

Francis HM(1), Fisher A, Rushby JA, McDonald S

Heart rate variability (HRV) may provide an index of capacity for social
functioning and may be remediated by HRV biofeedback. Given reductions in HRV are
found following traumatic brain injury (TBI), the present study aimed to
determine whether lower HRV in TBI is associated with social function, and
whether HRV biofeedback might be a useful remediation technique in this
population. Resting state HRV and measures of social and emotional processing
were collected in 30 individuals with severe TBI (3-34 years post-injury) and 30
controls. This was followed by a single session of HRV biofeedback. HRV was
positively associated with social cognition and empathy, and negatively
associated with alexithymia for the TBI group. Both TBI and control groups showed
significantly increased HRV on both time-domain (i.e., SDNN, rMSSD) and
frequency-domain measures (LF, HF, LF:HF ratio) during biofeedback compared to
baseline. These results suggest that decreased HRV is linked to social and
emotional function following severe TBI, and may be a novel target for therapy
using HRV biofeedback techniques.

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