Mosaic has an excellent in-depth article on researchers who are trying to detect signs of consciousness in patients who have fallen into coma-like states.
The piece meshes the work of neuroscientists Adrian Owen, Nicholas Schiff and Steven Laureys who are independently looking at how to detect signs of consciousness in unresponsive brain-injured patients.
It’s an excellent piece and communicates the key difference between various states of poor response after brain injury that are crucial for making sense of the ‘consciousness in coma’ headlines.
One of the key concepts is the minimally conscious state which is where patients show signs of fleeting and impaired consciousness but which is nonetheless verifiably present.
However, MCS is still a very impaired state to be in and this is sometimes missed by news reports.
For example, lots of coverage of a recent Lancet study suggested that ‘one third of patients in persistent vegetative state (a state with no reliable signs of consciousness) may be conscious’ as if this meant they were fully conscious but trapped in their bodies, when actually they just reached criteria for minimally conscious state.
My only point of contention with the Mosaic article is that it’s a little too enthusiastic about sleeping pill zolpidem, which has been reported to lead to a ‘miraculous’ recovery in some case reports but where results from early systematic studies still look bleak.
Nevertheless, an excellent piece that’s probably one of the best accounts of this important and innovative area of research you’re likely to read for a long-time.
Link to Mosaic article ‘The Mind Readers’.