A recent study indicates that brain injury patients in a vegetative state can follow simple commands. The study’s researchers say the results support their previous findings that suggested patients that appear unresponsive might have a relatively high level of cognitive capacity. 

According to researchers, the study encompassed 16 vegetative patients with brain injuries as a result of trauma or lack of oxygen, and 12 healthy patients. Researchers reportedly outfitted both groups of patients with elecroencephalography (EEG) monitors and asked the patients imagine moving either their hands or toes. The results indicate that three brain injury patients could generate two distinct brain activity patterns based on command, just the same as healthy patients. Researchers say one brain injury patient in particular generated these brain activity patterns more than 200 times, surpassing the efforts of the healthy patients.

Adrian Owen, PhD, University of Western Ontario, Canada, led the study. Owen and his team report that they utilized MRIs in their previous study. In the new study, researchers say they used a standard EEG device, less expensive than an MRI and ideal for brain injury patients in rehabilitation or nursing homes thanks to its portability.

Owen says the device is about as sensitive as an MRI and, “That means we have something we can get out into the community and use in hospitals or residential homes,” Owen adds.

For much of the last year, Owen says, he and his team have utilized their past and present findings to decode the electrical signals the brain emits when imagining these movements. The researchers say they hope to ultimately develop the approach into a communication tool.  

The study was recently published in The Lancet.

Source: University of Western Ontario