Patients in Vegetative State found to Recognize their Loved Ones

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BrainThe concern of those who have loved ones in a vegetative state have long been troubled by the lack of evidence that they are able to hear them or recognize that they are not alone. A vegetative state is one in which patients are awake and breathing without the aid of a ventilator, and they give the appearance of going in and out of sleep. They do not respond to any type of stimulus around them and show no evidence of conscious awareness. People can exist in a vegetative state for years, making it more frustrating for their friends and family not knowing if they are aware that they are even there.

Through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Dr. Haggai Sharon and Dr. Yotam Pastemak of Tel Aviv University’s Functional Brain Center and Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, have determined that patients in a vegetative state have an emotional reaction when shown photos of the people they know well. According to the details published in Science Daily News, a variety of stimuli was used to produce different reactions in patients, depending on their emotional value.

The findings were originally published in the scientific journal, Plos One. These findings deepen the understanding of the vegetative state, offering hope for providing these patients with better care and increasing the potential for new, novel treatments. The use of fMRI to examine brain activity in response to the various stimuli has disproven the age-old notion that these people had no awareness of self or environment. In some cases, patients have been able to perform complex cognitive tasks on command, including in one case, answering yes or no questions. While the research findings are considered “groundbreaking,” they do not tell whether all patients in these conditions are capable of having personal emotional experiences in this state. The researchers hope that further study will lead to improved care and treatment.

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