Clinical Autonomic Research

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 313–323 | Cite as

Cognitive function is associated with impaired heart rate variability in ageing adults: the Irish longitudinal study on ageing wave one results

  • John Frewen
  • Ciaran Finucane
  • George M. Savva
  • Gerard Boyle
  • Robert F. Coen
  • Rose Anne Kenny
Research Article



To examine the independent association between heart rate variability (HRV) and cognitive performance, in a nationally representative population study of older adults.


Cross-sectional analysis of wave 1 data from the Irish longitudinal study on ageing (TILDA) was performed. A subset of 4,763 participants who underwent ECG recording during resting and paced breathing periods were used for the analysis. HRV indices were divided into quintiles for comparison of values and cognitive performance was defined using the Montreal cognitive assessment (MOCA) score. Multivariate linear regression was used to model the association between cognition and different quintiles of each HRV index, after adjustment for covariates.


The mean age was 61.7 ± 8.3 years and 2,618 (55 %) were female. Lower quintiles of SDNN (P = 0.01-paced), LF (P = 0.001-paced), and LF:HF ratio (P = 0.049-paced) were significantly associated with lower MOCA scores (during both recording periods), independent of confounders. Sub-domains of MOCA responsible for the relationship were predominantly memory recall and language.


Reduced HRV is significantly associated with lower cognitive performance at a population level in people aged 50 and older. This further strengthens the relationship between autonomic dysfunction and cognitive disorders.


Autonomic function Heart rate variability Cognitive impairment Paced breathing Population studies 



Financial contributions from the following entities would like to be acknowledged; The Atlantic Philanthropies (research grant to the Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing); Irish Life plc and the Irish Government (grant to the Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing). We would also like to acknowledge the participants in the study, and the studies nurses and administrators.

Conflict of interest

None declared.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Frewen
    • 1
  • Ciaran Finucane
    • 1
    • 2
  • George M. Savva
    • 1
  • Gerard Boyle
    • 2
  • Robert F. Coen
    • 3
    • 4
  • Rose Anne Kenny
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, Lincoln GateDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.Department of Medical Physics and BioengineeringSt. James’s HospitalDublin 8Ireland
  3. 3.Mercer’s Institute for Research on Ageing, St. James’s HospitalDublin 8Ireland
  4. 4.Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity CollegeDublin 2Ireland

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