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Brain Scan Suggests We Play a “Last Recall” of Life Events Before Death

In the first ever recording of a dying brain, scientists say we may actually relive our most important life events just before death. Credit: NIH/Public Domain

In the first ever recording of a dying brain, scientists say we may actually relive our most important life events just before death, a University of Louisville research paper suggests.

Published on Tuesday, the paper recounts how scientists accidentally captured an epilepsy patient’s brain as it shut down, showing an astonishing snapshot into death. The patient was hooked up to an electroencephalogram (EEG) when the recording was made.

The 87-year-old man’s brain activity was being measured when he suddenly had a heart attack and died, meaning the 15 minutes before and after his death was recorded on the EEG.

Brain scan reveals “last recall” timeline

In the 30 seconds after the man’s death, an increase in very specific brain waves were spotted. These waves, known as gamma oscillations, are linked to things like memory recital, meditation, and dreaming.

Scientists suggest this could mean — although many more studies would need to take place, in order to confirm it — that we might see a film reel of our best memories at the moment of death. Alternatively, we could enter a peaceful dreamlike state in our final moments that has a response in our brain that is akin to meditation.

As our bodies shut down, our brains could still be working hard in a concerted effort to deliver its final task.

Brain scan before death
The study, which found flashes in the brain that could suggest we relive memories when we die, was released on Tuesday. Credit: Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience

Brain scan shows final moments in “non-experimental” way

“Through generating oscillations involved in memory retrieval, the brain may be playing a last recall of important life events just before we die, similar to the ones reported in near-death experiences,” Dr. Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, who organized the study, said. “These findings challenge our understanding of when exactly life ends and generate important subsequent questions, such as those related to the timing of organ donation.”

Similar brainwave changes have been seen in rats at the time of death, but never in humans before.

Netflix documentary explores near-death experiences

“Our data provide the first evidence from the dying human brain in a non-experimental, real-life acute care clinical setting and advocate that the human brain may possess the capability to generate co-ordinated activity during the near-death period,” stated the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

This is just one single case study, with a brain that had already been injured due to the man’s epilepsy, but might pave the wave for a greater understanding about what happens to us when we die.

“Something we may learn from this research is: Although our loved ones have their eyes closed and are ready to leave us to rest, their brains may be replaying some of the nicest moments they experienced in their lives,” Zemmar said.

In 2021, Netflix released a documentary titled “Surviving Death” which aims to explores near-death experiences, mediums and séances, ghost-hunting and supposed past-life memories.

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