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Chinese Scientist testing on “locked in” patients show levels of awareness
At Novum Law we frequently act for individuals with varying degrees of traumatic brain injury. The most severe of these brain injuries are individuals with such severe injuries to their brains that they are in a vegetative state. Many of these individuals are awake but have lost all cognitive functions. Others are occasionally diagnosed as being in this state are actually minimally conscious with fleeting periods of awareness, often referred to as being “locked in” meaning that they are totally aware but unable to move any part of their body.
The medical profession sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between each state.
Interestingly, researchers in China have devised a computer system that can test individuals with these types of brain injuries when completing a mental arithmetic task from the system. The ability to complete such mental arithmetic would evidence signs of conscious awareness and cognitive function.
Testing undertaken by South China University of Technology showed people with various diagnoses a maths problem on a screen. This problem was followed by two possible answers flickering at frequencies which were designed to evoke different patters of brain activity. The individuals were asked to focus their attention on the correct answer and count the number of times the frame flashed. The brain pattern from the answer that they were focusing on, together with the detection of another type of brain signal that occurs only when someone is counting, could tell the researchers what that person was focusing on.
Two of six participants diagnosed as being in a vegetative state, one of three in a minimally conscious state and two who have recently emerged from a minimally conscious state, were able to correctly communicate their answers. The view of the research team was that this could not have occurred by chance.
This research is fascinating and shows real development in this severe and relatively misunderstood diagnosis. Theoretically, based on these types of arithmetic testing, individual’s diagnoses can be changed. The ability of somebody in a vegetative or “locked in” state with the ability to complete basic mental arithmetic, provides hope to medical teams as well as the individuals family that further cognitive rehabilitation could be possible.
Whilst this research clearly has a long way to go, and further tests to undertake, it is a very hopeful step in the right direction in assessing and understanding more about these diagnoses. Correct diagnosis and understanding of an individuals abilities could result in them having a far better quality of life and access to the relevant neurorehabilitation.
For further details regarding this research, please see the full article here.