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Coma Patients May Experience Consciousness Just Before Death

Coma patients experience consciousness before death
Coma patients experience consciousness before death. Credit: NIH Image Gallery / Flickr / Public Domain

Researchers have made an intriguing discovery about patients who are in a coma and close to death. They have found unusual patterns in their brain waves, which indicate that these patients may have a brief period of consciousness just before they pass away.

There have been many stories and studies throughout history that have shown people experiencing something similar when they are near death. Some have reported hearing voices, seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel, or even being visited by loved ones who have already passed away.

Scientists are now interested in whether there is a biological reason for these experiences. They want to know if there is a common process in the brain that causes them to happen.

Brain Activity of Dying Patients

A recent study, which was published in the scientific journal PNAS on Monday, has found some interesting early evidence about the brain activity of dying comatose patients. The study suggests that there may be a surge of brain activity associated with consciousness just before these patients pass away.

The scientists conducting the research studied four patients who were in a coma and unresponsive. All of these patients died due to cardiac arrest while being monitored with an EEG, which tracks brain activity.

Since the patients were beyond medical help and their families gave permission, they were taken off life support. Two of those patients showed an increase in their heart rate, along with a surge of “gamma” brain wave activity, which is the fastest type of brain activity associated with consciousness.

Brain activity is increased in patients just before death
Brain activity is increased in patients just before death. Credit: Official U.S. Navy Page / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The study also discovered activity in a specific area of the brain known as the “hot zone,” which is linked to consciousness. This area is located at the junction of the temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes, which are located in the back of the brain.

Previous research has shown that this brain area is connected to dreaming, visual hallucinations in epilepsy, and altered states of consciousness in other studies.

While the two patients who showed increased brain activity had a history of seizures, none were observed during the hour before their deaths.

The other two patients did not display the same increase in heart rate or brain activity after being removed from life support.

Sample Size of the Study

Since the study only involved a small sample size, researchers caution against drawing firm conclusions about the implications of the research.

Nonetheless, they find the findings “exciting” and believe they provide a new framework for understanding consciousness in dying patients. It is impossible to know for sure what the patients experienced, as they could not survive.

Landmark Study On the Brain Activity of a Dying Person

The latest research builds upon a landmark study from last year that analyzed the brain activity of a dying person. The study revealed patterns in brain waves around the time of death that were similar to those during dreaming and memory recall.

During that study, scientists were analyzing the brain waves of an 87-year-old epileptic patient for seizures using an EEG device. However, the dying person had a heart attack and died in the middle of the research.

An analysis of the EEG recordings showed an increase in gamma brain wave activity as the person was dying. This has led scientists to believe that the dying individual may have been having a “last recall of life.”

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