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A recent case control study took bedside EEG recordings of the electrical signals coming from the brains of 32 people with disorders of consciousness, as well as 26 healthy individuals acting as the controls.
A vegetative state is where the patient would normally have no environmental awareness at all but still demonstrates a sleep – wake cycle and reflexive responses to, for instances, pain or sound. It is one of three conditions that are termed as a disorder of consciousness that usually follow a severe brain injury.
The results are complex but in general, there were distinct and very intricate differences in brain networks and connectivity between the two groups. There was also a direct correlation between signalling networks and the degree of behavioural response demonstrated within the people in a vegetative state.
13 people out of the 32 people in a vegetative state, who by definition have no behavioural response, were found to have demonstrated some signs of brain activities, when asked to imagine playing a game of tennis whilst undergoing a functional MRI scan of the brain.
In essence, the group of patients that showed signs of “hidden awareness” were found to have had well preserved signalling networks similar to that of healthy adults.
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