Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cheap Way to Detect Consciousness

This report in the Lancet shows that ordinary hospital EEG equipment can be inexpensively adapted and used to detect consciousness in patients who appear vegetative. In the study, 3 of 16 superficially unresponsive patients were able to generate EEG-detectable brain activity in response to simple requests, e.g., to imagine moving a toe--indicating a previously undetected level of consciousness. The existence of this technology, which involves sticking electrodes to the patient's head, could have a profound effect on diagnosis of and care for brain-injured patients, many of whom can't be examined even using more expensive fMRI technology because of the presence of metal screws or plates in their brains, or because they are unable to keep still. People on all sides of the end-of-life debate should welcome an inexpensive way to avoid misdiagnosis of PVS.

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