Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most prevalent (and difficult to treat) mental health conditions around the globe, usually affecting people with a background in the military.
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD affects around 12 percent of Gulf War veterans, up to 20 percent of Iraq War vets, and as many as 30 percent of soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.
Typical symptoms include depression, insomnia, nightmares, avoidant behaviour, intrusive and distressing memories, anhedonia, and self-destructive habits like binge drinking and drug abuse.
Currently available treatments include medication and talk-therapy, which are moderately effective at controlling symptoms, but come with unpleasant side-effects, and usually fail to address persistent sleep issues.
Now, a team of researchers from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre, led by principal investigator Charles H. Tegeler, had come up with a novel treatment, involving a technology called high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring (HIRREM).
First, 18 military veterans and active officers with PTSD (mean age 40.9 years) were given a battery of inventories to measure their level of post-traumatic stress, insomnia, anxiety, and depression, which they had to fill out before, immediately after, and at 1, 3, and 6 months after the study.
Additionally, the subjects were also tested for blood pressure, heart function, grip strength, and blood and saliva biomarkers of stress and inflammation.
Next, the researchers took readings of electric signals in their brains to identify abnormal frequencies, and fed them into a computer algorithm, which rendered them into corresponding sound patterns.
Finally, when the resulting auditory signal was played back to the subjects in close to real-time, significant reductions in all symptom scores were observed.
“This study is also the first to report improvement in heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity – physiological responses to stress – after the use of an intervention for service members or veterans with ongoing symptoms of post-traumatic stress,” said Tegler.
While the study has a number of significant limitations like small sample size, lack of a comparison group, and no control for placebo effect, it indicates an interesting area for further research.
The study was published in the journal Military Medical Research.