Conscious or Not? Brain Responses Bring Scientists Closer to Making a Diagnosis in the Brain-Damaged
2012 10 25

From: DiscoverMagazine.com



When a brain-damaged person seems unresponsive, the uncertainty is excruciating. Is the person in a vegetative state, awake but not conscious, or are they minimally conscious, still retaining some shreds of awareness? Scientists can now distinguish between people in vegetative and minimally conscious states by measuring brain waves, a Belgian research team announced at the Society for Neuroscience conference last week, which could lead to a more clear-cut, objective way to make the diagnosis.

The researchers used EEGs, readouts of the brain’s electrical activity, to study how the brains of healthy and brain-damaged people responded to a mild electrical jolt. They then quantified how complex and widespread the brain activity of different patients was, using this complexity measure as, essentially, a gauge of consciousness. In 32 wide-awake, healthy patients, the jolt elicited a widespread flurry of brain activity; two patients with locked-in syndrome, where patients are fully conscious but unable to move or respond, showed a similarly complex response. The jolt produced less complex brain responses in twelve minimally conscious patients. Six vegetative patients showed even less complex brain activation still, on par with what the researchers saw in sleeping subjects and in those under anesthesia.

Consciousness is a difficult thing to pin down, and current methods of determining whether—and to what extent—a brain damaged patient has it are largely subjective, with doctors making judgment calls about whether motions are purposeful or reflexive. The diagnoses can often be wrong, and patients thought to be vegetative have even, on rare occasions, re-awakened after months of unresponsiveness. Last year, the research team showed how the brains of people in vegetative and minimally conscious states responded differently to sound. But those earlier experiments could only distinguish between groups of people, looking at overall trends. The new test is the first to tell the two states apart in individual patients, Melanie Boly, the researcher leading the project, told Nature News, making it useful not just as a scientific measure but as a clinical one, as well.

A diagnostic tool like this one, if further research bears it out, could provide a more objective, reliable measure of consciousness. That would be a huge help to patients’ families, and could affect legal decisions, like whether or not to end life support for a patient with brain damage, that hinge on the diagnosis of consciousness.


Article from: discovermagazine.com








Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Magaluf bar where British girl was filmed performing sex acts on 24 men is shut down after police investigation into video
2014 07 26
Is this what the youth in Britain and Europe is spending their their energy, money, efforts and innocence on? The young girl, pictured, was lured into performing multiple sex acts after organisers offered a free drink although she thought a holiday was on offer* Council officials launched an official investigation after the video went viral Playhouse bar in Magaluf and entertainment ...
Prejudice is a Form of Common Sense - Hard-Wired Into the Human Brain, Says ASU Study
2014 07 26
Contrary to what most people believe, the tendency to be prejudiced is a form of common sense, hard-wired into the human brain through evolution as an adaptive response to protect our prehistoric ancestors from danger. So suggests a new study published by Arizona State University researchers in the May issue of the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology," which contends that, ...
The State is a Bully
2014 07 24
In the history of Western philosophy and social theory, no really silly idea has been more successful than the theory of the social contract. It is in fact not a theory of the social contract. It is a theory of the political contract. It is the idea, promoted by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that, at some point in ...
NATO Exercise in Ukraine Coincided with MH-17 Shoot-down
2014 07 24
Rapid Trident was omitted from the flurry of coverage on the shoot-down MH-17. From the U.S. Army in Europe website: Rapid Trident supports interoperability among Ukraine, the United States, NATO and Partnership for Peace member nations. The exercise helps prepare participants to operate successfully in a joint, multinational, integrated environment with host-nation support from civil and governmental agencies. ...
Warning of ’imminent’ terror attack in Norway
2014 07 24
Norwegians were warned Thursday of the concrete possibility of a terror attack occurring in that country at the hands of people with connections to an extremist group in Syria. A press conference was called in Oslo, Norway on Thursday where an announcement was made of a "possible concrete threat" to national security in that country from terrorists related to an extremist ...
More News »