Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Study: Vegetative brains show signs of awareness

From the Associated Press:

NEW YORK – Scientists have detected glimmers of awareness in some vegetative brain-injury patients and have even communicated with one of them — findings that push the boundaries of how to assess and care for such people.

The new research suggests that standard tests may overlook patients who have some consciousness, and that someday some kind of communication may be possible.

In the strongest example, a 29-year-old patient was able to answer yes-or-no questions by visualizing specific scenes the doctors asked him to imagine. The two visualizations sparked different brain activity viewed through a scanning machine.

"We were stunned when this happened," said one study author, Martin Monti of Medical Research Council Cognitive and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, England. "I find it literally amazing. This was a patient who was believed to be vegetative for five years."

Ever since a research paper four years ago showed apparent signs of awareness in a vegetative patient — one who was included in the new study — families of patients have been clamoring for brain scans, said Dr. James Bernat of Dartmouth Medical School, a spokesman for the American Academy of Neurology.