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

(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."

PET scans are more accurate at detecting consciousness than MRI scans, researchers say.
PET scans are more accurate at detecting consciousness than MRI scans, researchers say.   (Shutterstock)
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