Unconscious Man “Talks”

Scott Routley, a 39 year old Canadian man, has been considered in a vegetative state and unable to communicate following a car crash 12 years ago. It’s the first time, ever, that a severely brain damaged patient has been able to communicate according to the BBC story 11/13/12.

Neuroscientist Adrian Owen of the University of Western Ontario told the BBC. “Scott has been able to show us he has a thinking, conscious mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is.”

This is done by measuring brain activity while asking a series of questions. The questions about playing tennis or walking through the house produce a noticeably different brain sequence, researchers use these as proxies for yes and no answers do determine a diferent pattern and see what the patient is thing.

This groundbreaking discovery changes everything we currently know about vegetative and severely brain damaged patients. More research will need to be done into this exciting new development, but things are looking very hopeful. In the future this knowledge could be used to improve quality of life, from asking questions about preferred music and TV shows to time of day for a bath..

This ability to communicate can also provide comfort to family members and friends who worry that their loved one is in pain.

The functional MRI reading measures oxygen rich blood and it’s flow through the brain. The neuro team has a series of simple questions they ask to determine the patient’s response and accuracy of answers before asking questions such as “Are you in pain?”

For more information please see sources:

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/33264/title/An–Unconscious–Man-Talks/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20268044