Three severely brain-injured people thought to be in an irreversible “vegetative” state showed signs of full consciousness when tested with a relatively inexpensive and commonly used method of measuring brain waves, doctors reported Wednesday. Experts said the findings, if replicated, would change standards in treating such patients.
Scientists have seen meaningful, responsive brain activity in such patients before, using a high-tech magnetic resonance imaging scanner. But the new study, posted online Wednesday by the journal The Lancet, is the first to demonstrate that clear signs of conscious awareness can be detected on an electroencephalogram machine by using an innovative strategy. The EEG is a portable, widely available unit that picks up electrical brain activity through electrodes positioned on a person’s head. Clinics and homes treating people with severe brain injuries are far more likely to have access to an EEG than to an M.R.I. scanner.