Nov 13 2012

Communicating with the Vegetative

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9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Communicating with the Vegetative”

  1. BillyJoe7on 13 Nov 2012 at 2:44 pm

    If I was one of those patients, I’m not sure that I would be excited about being pulled out of my minimally conscious state into an awareness of my dire predicament.

  2. jaranathon 13 Nov 2012 at 4:26 pm

    The program is supposed to show these patients communicating through fMRI as well, giving “yes/no” responses to questions.

    I am thrilled if this turns out to be a genuine way to help some of these poor people…I cannot imagine what their lives are like. I SHOULD just be happy about this. But I am also cringing at the pseudoscientific maelstrom this is likely to set in motion. We already know families of these patients are prone to believing they are communicating with their loved ones when they almost certainly aren’t, either through facilitated communication or other means. And now we add a very impressive, technologically magical, noise-prone tool to the toolbox.

  3. HHCon 13 Nov 2012 at 7:41 pm

    I have watched family members assist such patients to vote at election time, very challenging communication I imagine.

  4. tmac57on 14 Nov 2012 at 11:15 am

    Is there a possibility that the researchers knowledge of which patients were in a coma due to trauma versus diffuse anoxic ischemic injury,might have introduced bias into their interpretation of the data?

  5. locutusbrgon 14 Nov 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Without being too morbid this literally makes me think of Classic star trek and the iconic image of captain Pike in the black chair beeping yes and no answers.

  6. inconsciouson 15 Nov 2012 at 7:51 am

    I’ve talked with Dr. Owen about these results in person and have seen his most recent presentation of data such as these at the Society for Neuroscience Conference in October. They are most certainly very impressive findings – particularly related to the formation of new memories while in these states. In spite of the noise inherent to fMRI work there are always intelligent control experiments one can do to pin-point whether a key finding is more likely to be “real” or just noise. This team, from my understanding, have done just those control experiments:
    For example: Generally the way they go about doing things is asking the patient to think about playing tennis if the answer to a question is “yes” and think about walking through their house if the answer is “no.” This is, of course, after ensuring that they can even do this imagery paradigm (which itself requires them to perform the task for 30 seconds consistently). One question they asked a patient to identify his name – they subsequently ran through a list of names, some of them very similar to the patient’s. Surprisingly he only “played tennis” (i.e. answered “yes”) with his own name.

    These examples were shown in conference talks, so I don’t know that they’re published yet.
    The lab’s website is here, though:

  7. jaranathon 15 Nov 2012 at 10:40 am

    Inconscious, thanks for the input. I hate to ask, but…has there been any sense from these patients about how they feel, emotionally-speaking?

  8. BillyJoe7on 15 Nov 2012 at 2:46 pm

    I was going to ask a similar question. Do the researchers get the impression that they are doing these patients a favour? Or are they awakening their patients to a realisation of their dire predicament? In other words, would it be better for them to remain in a minimally conscious state?

  9. inconsciouson 16 Nov 2012 at 9:27 am

    @ jaranath/BillyJoe7

    I’m not sure I can really answer those questions based on VS/MCS patients. But recent work on locked-in-syndrome patients gets close, I think. Check out work from the Coma Science Group for some of this.

    Essentially, what I’ve picked up from this work is that the “human spirit” is pretty strong in that individuals with LOS feel they can have a meaningful life. Of course, this is all balanced on being able to communicate.

    Asking patients if they are in pain, depressed, or wish to be allowed to die are very important quality of life issues that definitely should be addressed as these techniques progress – IMHO. Brain machine interface technologies are going to be huge for improving quality of life as well, I think.

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