Navigating the darkness of coma-like states

ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind recently broadcast a gripping programme on patients in the coma-like persistent vegetative state (PVS) and how new brain imaging techniques might be able to identify people who are conscious but unable to communicate with the outside world.

The programme talks to neuropsychologist Adrian Owen, whose work we’ve featured previously on Mind Hacks, who conducted a brain imaging study on a 23-year-old woman in PVS suggested that she could understand what was being said to her.

The neuroimaging team asked her to practice mental tasks when and could pick up and distinguish the related brain activity using an fMRI scanner.

The programme discusses Owen and colleagues research, including a peak at some ongoing studies to try and turn this into a method of communication, and debates the ethics of dealing with patients who are effectively unresponsive to the world.

It’s also got some striking excerpts from a Kate Cole-Adams’ novel Walking to the Moon about a woman who emerges from coma. If you want to hear more, another ABC show interviewed Cole-Adams and discussed the book.

Link to AITM on ‘Beyond coma’.
Link to Life Matters on ‘Walking to the Moon’.

2 thoughts on “Navigating the darkness of coma-like states”

  1. A former colleague of mine, John Connolloy, has had great success using EEG to assess PVS patients. A sample publication:
    Wang, J.T., Young, G.B., & Connolly, J.F. (2004)
    Prognostic value of evoked responses and event-related brain potentials in coma.
    Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, 31, 438-450.
    Where EEG is a cheaper alternative to fMRI, it would be interesting to compare the accuracy/reliability of the two approaches. To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if the EEG approach turned out to be both cheap and more effective.

  2. Is not the problem that we do not have a sound definiton of the “neural correlates of consciousness” and then our neuroimaging techniques are seeking something in the dark?

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