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Start > Resource centre > Articles > Can an unconscious person be aware of his surroundings? Part 3

This study and two other reports suggest that we should be cautious in making assumptions about whether individuals with brain injury have any remaining "conscious" awareness.

Persons who have multiple strokes or severe head injury may end up lying in bed totally unable to communicate, even though their eyes may be open at times. These patients have to be fed by a tube and cannot do anything for themselves. They are said to be in a "persistent vegetative state and there is increasing pressure on doctors to discontinue feeding these patients and leave them to die, on the grounds that they have no "conscious" brain activity.

A recent report from Addenbrooke's Hospital in England showed evidence that one such patient who was completely unable to communicate or do anything for herself was able to recognise photos of familiar faces. When photos were shown to her, activation of parts of the brain were detected on a brain functional magnetic resonance scan. The patient started to recover a couple of months later.

Seventeen of 40 patients admitted to the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability in London with a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state, made up to four years previously, were misdiagnosed. The authors in an article in the British Medical Journal, pointed out that it requires a skilled neurological team to determine whether patients who have severe brain injury are aware of their surroundings.

Teacher: Michael
Many articles taken from 'A word with the doctor', by Dr. John Windsor.


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