Scientists have used a portable device that tracks changes in brain waves to communicate with people in a vegetative state, some of whom have been locked in their bodies for more than a year.
The researchers instructed 16 people in a vegetative state to imagine they were making a fist with their right hand or wiggling their toes, and then measured brain activity while electrodes were attached to their scalp.
"It was possible to detect that these patients were actually aware" despite being diagnosed as being "entirely unconscious" using standard clinical assessments, said Professor Adrian Owen of the Center for Brain and Mind at the University of Western Ontario.
Curiously, three of the 12 healthy volunteers were not able to reliably activate areas in the brain used when making a fist or wiggling toes, even though they were very much aware of their surroundings.
Cruse said patients in a vegetative state may have been much more motivated to do the task because they were eager to show that they were aware of their surroundings. via