Into the grey zone

A neuroscientist has shared his findings into communicating with patients who appear to be in a vegetative state.

  The neuroscientist, Dr Adrian Owen, has written a book about patients whose brains were previously thought to be vegetative or non-responsive – but were found, in 20% of cases, to be ‘vibrantly alive’. In Into the Grey Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death, Owen explores how some unresponsive patients see, hear and comprehend more than previously thought.  The book is based on Owen’s own work and contains several case studies. Owen wrote a piece in the The Guardian last month about his work with a young man, Scott Routley, who had been in a vegetative state for 12 years but his family were convinced he was aware. Back in 2012, Owen suggested Scott was put in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner (fMRI), which has shown that some patients in the vegetative state are actually “fully conscious, even though they never respond to any form of external stimulation”. The scanner proved Scott was conscious. He was able to answer questions including whether he was in pain, and who his caregiver was. The technique Owen used was asking Scott to respond to questions by imagining that he was playing a game of tennis, as this action results in a lot of brain activity. Owen continued to work with Scott until he died in 2013 (Scott had medical complications from his original accident). We featured a story about Scott on www.braininjuryhub.co.uk in 2012. In his new book Owen shares the stories of several patients. His website features videos, including one of Kate who was ‘the first vegetative state patient to show that part of her was still in there through brain scanning’.  
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