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

Seven Points of Agreement Between Individuals
2014 10 02
In what follows, underlined words are my modifications to the original (cite given at the end) "Seven Points of Agreement Between Individuals" -- a binding contract entered into by individuals with other individuals so as to create a society within which individual sovereignty is upheld. These agreements are thought by the author of the book within which they appear to ...
If Someone Secretly Controlled What You Say, Would Anyone Notice?
2014 10 01
The subject enters a room in which a 12-year-old boy is seated. A 20-minute conversation ensues. The subject quizzes the boy about current events and other topics to get a sense of his intelligence and personality. But the boy is not what he appears to be. Unbeknownst to the subject, the boy is wearing a radio receiver in his ear, and ...
Obama has had accurate intelligence about ISIS since BEFORE the 2012 election, says administration insider
2014 10 01
‘President Barack Obama’s intelligence briefings have provided him with specific information since before he won re-election in 2012 about the growing threat of the terror group now known alternatively as ISIS and ISIL, an administration insider told MailOnline on Monday. ‘Unless someone very senior has been shredding the president’s daily briefings and telling him that the dog ate them, highly accurate ...
Can holding a magnet against your head help defeat depression?
2014 10 01
Former GP Sue Mildred suffered from crippling depression and anxiety for 20 years. On two occasions it was so severe that she ended up in hospital, and for 15 years she was unable to work. Sue, 51, has tried antidepressants, talking therapies and, out of desperation, even ECT (electro-convulsive therapy), where an electric current is passed through the brain. This did ...
Extremists to have Facebook and Twitter vetted by anti-terror police
2014 09 30
Theresa May to announce new Extremist Disruption Orders to strengthen counter-terrorism if the Tories win the next general election Extremists will have to get posts on Facebook and Twitter approved in advance by the police under sweeping rules planned by the Conservatives. They will also be barred from speaking at public events if they represent a threat to “the functioning of democracy”, ...
More News »