Many Vegetative People Are Actually Conscious
Scans detect which patients have hope of recovery
By Rob Quinn, Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2014 2:25 AM CDT
PET scans are more accurate at detecting consciousness than MRI scans, researchers say.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – Many patients labeled vegetative actually have some degree of consciousness and a good chance of improving with treatment, a new study finds. Researchers tracked more than 100 patients with severe brain injuries for a year and discovered that PET scans were 74% accurate in predicting which patients would show signs of consciousness a year later, including nine of the 41 who had been declared vegetative, reports the Los Angeles Times, which notes that up to 37,000 people in the US are considered to be in vegetative states

The lead researcher says patients considered vegetative are too often sent to nursing homes that do not attempt to rehabilitate them. "I think these patients are kind of neglected by both medicine and society," he tells the New York Times. He warns, however, that the type of PET scan used in the research is not widely available, and it could show signs of consciousness in people with no hope of recovery. "We shouldn’t give these families false hope," he says. "This is very difficult. But it’s just a very complex medical reality. Quantifying consciousness is tricky."

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Retired in Glide
Apr 17, 2014 1:11 PM CDT
At eighteen, in '84, my son had a closed head injury in an auto accident and he went immediately into a coma. The doctors said that if he lived he would be a vegetable but that there was some brain activity. At two weeks he blinked. At 6 1/2 weeks I was able to get him into St. Jude's Rehab, even though he was unable to follow any instructions. He just scrubbed his left heel on the mattress in response to any attempt. After a week or two in rehab, his first words were, "I love you Dad". At 4 1/2 months in rehab we were able to bring him home. He refused to come home with a wheel chair. After another few months of out patient rehab, his therapists felt that with a special driver training teacher he would be able to drive. It's been thirty years and he is disabled because of short term memory issues and some problems with balance, gross and small motor skills but he is very happy to be alive.
K.C.
Apr 16, 2014 5:19 PM CDT
Yes. This confirms my suspicion. I so appreciate this article and headline. This article certainly reinforces my definition of life end stance and what to do about it.
Lefty_Libby
Apr 16, 2014 4:23 PM CDT
Don't know what to think of this. My brother took my sister off life support. She'd been tested a number of times, but I don't know if the hospital had the equipment mentioned in this article. Every test showed no brain activity, but I'll always wonder if she was really gone. It was such a shock.