The Guardian Long Read: How science found a way to help coma patients communicate. “After suffering serious brain injuries, Scott Routley spent 12 years in a vegetative state. But his family were convinced that he was still aware – could a pioneering ‘mind-reading’ technique prove them right?” By Adrian Owen.
“In recent years, thanks to the invention of fMRI, we have made extraordinary breakthroughs in understanding the mental life of people trapped in the grey zone. We have discovered that 15% to 20% of people in the vegetative state, who are widely assumed to have no more awareness than a head of broccoli, are in fact fully conscious, even though they never respond to any form of external stimulation. They may open their eyes, grunt and groan, and occasionally utter isolated words. They appear to live entirely in their own world, devoid of thoughts or feelings. Many really are as oblivious and incapable of thought as their doctors believe. But a sizeable number are experiencing something quite different: intact minds adrift deep within damaged bodies and brains. We have even figured out how to communicate directly with such people.”
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See also the BBC Panorama documentary ‘The Mind Reader – Unlocking My Voice’ in which Prof. Adrian Owen communicates with several vegetative state patients using fMRI.
A friend I knew since kindergarten was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) for almost 15 years after a car accident. She passed away this spring.