Research about patients thought to be in vegetative states with questionable levels of consciousness has been finding that they might be more aware than previously thought. A new study from Tel Aviv University is no different.
Researchers from the university and Loewenstein Hospital evaluated patients in vegetative states who were awake but exhibited “no signs of awareness.”
The team showed four patients in such a state — compared to 13 people who were healthy controls — pictures of people they knew and others who were strangers. They also verbally asked them to imagine someone they knew.
Monitoring their brain activity, the researchers found those in a vegetative state showed emotional processing in the brain, “suggesting the ability for covert emotional awareness of self and the environment in VS patients,” the study published in the journal PLOS One earlier this year stated.
“We showed that patients in a vegetative state can react differently to different stimuli in the environment depending on their emotional value,” said Dr. Haggai Sharon with Tel Aviv University’s Functional Brain Center, according to American Friends of Tel Aviv University. “It’s not a generic thing; it’s personal and autobiographical. We engaged the person, the individual, inside the patient.”
Two patients in a vegetative state eventually recovered, according to the journal, and in the study had showed the strongest connectivity between recognition and the emotional side of the brain.
“This experiment, a first of its kind, demonstrates that some vegetative patients may not only possess emotional awareness of the environment but also experience emotional awareness driven by internal processes, such as images,” Sharon said.