Researchers scan the brain of a dying patient: what they found

  • A recording of a man’s brainwaves at the time of his death showed patterns similar to those seen during dreaming, memory retrieval and meditation.
  • Around the time of death, the EEG recorded changes in gamma brain waves (oscillations) and other types of brain waves.
  • The man was in the hospital after developing epilepsy after a fall. During an EEG scan, he suffered a heart attack and died.

A team of scientists accidentally recorded the brainwaves of an 87-year-old patient as he died, providing the first glimpse of what happens in the brain in the final moments of life.

The man’s brainwave patterns in the 30 seconds before and after his heart stopped were similar to those that occur during dreaming, memory retrieval and meditation.

The man was in the hospital after suffering from epilepsy after a fall. While doctors used continuous electroencephalography (EEG) to detect his seizures and treat him, the man suffered a heart attack and died.

Around the time of death, the EEG recorded changes in gamma brain waves (oscillations) and other types of brain waves.

“By generating vibrations associated with memory retrieval, the brain may play a final reminder of important life events just before we die, similar to those reported in near-death experiences,” the study author writes dr Ajmal Zemmara neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, speculated in a press release.

However, it is impossible to know from the EEG what the man might have been experiencing in his mind at the time of death.

In addition, “these results challenge our understanding of exactly when life ends and raise important follow-up questions, such as when organ donation occurs,” Zemmar said.

The researchers caution against drawing broad conclusions based on this study, which involved only one patient.

The man also suffered from epilepsy with swelling and bleeding in the brain. “Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and white matter damage can affect rhythmic brain activity,” the authors write in the paper.

The study was published in the journal on February 22 Frontiers in aging neuroscience.

in one Study 2009George Washington University researchers took EEG recordings from seven patients who were seriously ill at the time of their death.

They found an increase in electrical activity in the brain that occurred even when no blood pressure was detectable.

“Patients who suffer ‘near-death’ experiences may recall the aggregated memory of synaptic activity associated with this terminal but potentially reversible hypoxemia [lack of oxygen]’ they speculated in the newspaper.

in one Study 2013Another group of researchers observed changes in gamma brain waves in rats at the time of death similar to those seen in the most recent study.

Within the first 30 seconds after the heart stopped beating, all of the rats showed a widespread increase in synchronized brain activity associated with a highly aroused brain, they reported.

“We were surprised by the high level of activity,” says the study author dr George MashourAssistant Professor of Anesthesiology and Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan, said in a press release back then.

“Indeed, many known electrical signatures of consciousness at near-death exceeded levels found in the waking state, suggesting that the brain is capable of well-organized electrical activity in the early phase of clinical death.”

The similarity between the results of the two studies suggests that, at least in mammals, there is a common neurological response to death that is common to all species.

Zemmar said in the press release that he plans to investigate similar cases.

“As a neurosurgeon, I deal with losses at times,” he said. “Bringing the news of death to a distressed family member is incredibly difficult.”

“Something we can learn from this research is that even though our loved ones have their eyes closed and are willing to let us rest, their brains may be repeating some of the most beautiful moments they’ve experienced in their lives.”


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