February 24, 2024

Back from the dead?

Will it be possible to communicate with patients in vegetative state?

British researchers believe that they have
found a way to communicate with people who appear to be in a vegetative state.
Recent studies have shown that responses from some of these people can be
detected with an fMRI scanner. Damian Cruse, of the Medical Research Council’s
Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, has found that electrodes
pasted to a patients scalp can detect the difference between imagining a clenched
hand and imagining wiggling one’s toes. The electroencephalogram (EEG), is far
cheaper and more portable than a fMRI machine. This makes it possible to ask
patients Yes and No questions.

Their conclusion is that it may be possible
to communicate with people who were thought to be brain dead, but who have
really been locked in without any way to communicate. There may be only a few
of these people, but for them, it could be transforming. As The Economist
notes, “Given that solitary confinement is one of the harshest punishments
known, and that such people are condemned to the worst sort of solitary
imaginable, [this] would… be wonderful.” ~ Economist,
Jun 17

Michael Cook
vegetative state