Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Patient in 'vegetative state' not just aware, but paying attention, study suggests

Date:
October 31, 2013
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
A patient in a seemingly vegetative state, unable to move or speak, showed signs of attentive awareness that had not been detected before, a new study reveals.

This scan depicts patterns of the vegetative patient's electrical activity over the head when they attended to the designated words, and when they when they were distracted by novel but irrelevant words.
Credit: Clinical Neurosciences

A patient in a seemingly vegetative state, unable to move or speak, showed signs of attentive awareness that had not been detected before, a new study reveals. This patient was able to focus on words signalled by the experimenters as auditory targets as successfully as healthy individuals. If this ability can be developed consistently in certain patients who are vegetative, it could open the door to specialised devices in the future and enable them to interact with the outside world.

The research, by scientists at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (MRC CBSU) and the University of Cambridge, is published today, 31 October, in the journal Neuroimage: Clinical.

For the study, the researchers used electroencephalography (EEG), which non-invasively measures the electrical activity over the scalp, to test 21 patients diagnosed as vegetative or minimally conscious, and eight healthy volunteers. Participants heard a series of different words -- one word a second over 90 seconds at a time -- while asked to alternatingly attend to either the word 'yes' or the word 'no', each of which appeared 15% of the time. (Some examples of the words used include moss, moth, worm and toad.) This was repeated several times over a period of 30 minutes to detect whether the patients were able to attend to the correct target word.

They found that one of the vegetative patients was able to filter out unimportant information and home in on relevant words they were being asked to pay attention to. Using brain imaging (fMRI), the scientists also discovered that this patient could follow simple commands to imagine playing tennis. They also found that three other minimally conscious patients reacted to novel but irrelevant words, but were unable to selectively pay attention to the target word.

These findings suggest that some patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state might in fact be able to direct attention to the sounds in the world around them.

Dr Srivas Chennu at the University of Cambridge, said: "Not only did we find the patient had the ability to pay attention, we also found independent evidence of their ability to follow commands -- information which could enable the development of future technology to help patients in a vegetative state communicate with the outside world.

"In order to try and assess the true level of brain function and awareness that survives in the vegetative and minimally conscious states, we are progressively building up a fuller picture of the sensory, perceptual and cognitive abilities in patients. This study has added a key piece to that puzzle, and provided a tremendous amount of insight into the ability of these patients to pay attention."

Dr Tristan Bekinschtein at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit said: "Our attention can be drawn to something by its strangeness or novelty, or we can consciously decide to pay attention to it. A lot of cognitive neuroscience research tells us that we have distinct patterns in the brain for both forms of attention, which we can measure even when the individual is unable to speak. These findings mean that, in certain cases of individuals who are vegetative, we might be able to enhance this ability and improve their level of communication with the outside world."

This study builds on a joint programme of research at the University of Cambridge and MRC CBSU where a team of researchers have been developing a series of diagnostic and prognostic tools based on brain imaging techniques since 1998. Famously, in 2006 the group was able to use fMRI imaging techniques to establish that a patient in a vegetative state could respond to yes or no questions by indicating different, distinct patterns of brain activity.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Srivas Chennu, Paola Finoia, Evelyn Kamau, Martin M. Monti, Judith Allanson, John D. Pickard, Adrian M. Owen, Tristan A. Bekinschtein. Dissociable endogenous and exogenous attention in disorders of consciousness. NeuroImage: Clinical, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.nicl.2013.10.008

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Patient in 'vegetative state' not just aware, but paying attention, study suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131031110558.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2013, October 31). Patient in 'vegetative state' not just aware, but paying attention, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131031110558.htm
University of Cambridge. "Patient in 'vegetative state' not just aware, but paying attention, study suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131031110558.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

President To Send 3,000 Military Personnel To Fight Ebola

President To Send 3,000 Military Personnel To Fight Ebola

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) President Obama is expected to send 3,000 troops to West Africa as part of the effort to contain Ebola's spread. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama Orders Military Response to Ebola

Obama Orders Military Response to Ebola

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Calling the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a potential threat to global security, President Barack Obama is ordering 3,000 U.S. military personnel to the stricken region amid worries that the outbreak is spiraling out of control. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
UN: 20,000 Could Be Infected With Ebola by Year End

UN: 20,000 Could Be Infected With Ebola by Year End

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Nearly $1.0 billion dollars is needed to fight the Ebola outbreak raging in west Africa, the United Nations say, warning that 20,000 could be infected by year end. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: Ebola Outbreak Threat to Global Security

Obama: Ebola Outbreak Threat to Global Security

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) President Obama is ordering U.S. military personnel to West Africa to deal with the Ebola outbreak, which is he calls a potential threat to global security. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins