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EEG can provide important clues to determine if persons in a vegatative state have some cognitive awareness

Important research will aid in determining the cognitive functioning of individuals thought to be in a vegetative state. A simple technique using electroencephalography (EEG) may aid in detecting residual cognitive function and conscious awareness in patients otherwise apparently in a vegetative state, according to findings published on line in The Lancet.

Researchers report that responses on EEG showed signs of residual awareness in 3 of 16, or almost 20%, of patients otherwise meeting clinical definition of a vegetative state.

EEG’s can be performed at a patient’s bed side and the results will have profound implications for the rehabilitation of those previously thought to be in the vegetative state. 

The results will also have important implications for brain injury attorneys who must prove some conscious awareness of the individual in order to obtain compensation for conscious pain and suffering and loss of the enjoyment of life.

Previous research has found  several cases of patients in an apparently vegetative state  nevertheless showed signs of brain activation on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The scientists were able to show reliable differentiation of response on fMRI to questions that could be answered "yes" or "no" by asking the patients to imagine themselves either playing tennis or walking through their home — tasks the researchers knew would engage different parts of the brain.

Because fMRI scanning is expensive and the availability of this scanning technique is limited, the use of EEG studies is an important new development in assessing conscious awareness in these individuals. EEG’s are relatively inexpensive to perform and can be performed at the patient’s bedside.

It is important to note that the absence of positive EEG findings does not mean that the individual has no conscious awareness according to the study authors since three aware control individuals did not have positive EEG ‘s. 

"Despite rigorous clinical assessment, many patients in the vegetative state are misdiagnosed," the authors conclude. This new EEG method "could allow the widespread use of this bedside technique for the rediagnosis of patients who behaviorally seem to be entirely vegetative, but who might have residual cognitive function and conscious awareness."

The study can be read online

The New York brain injury attorneys at De Caro & Kaplen, LLP have provided legal assistance to numerous individuals who have sustained severe traumatic brain injuries including those in coma’s, the vegetative state and those with minimal levels of consciousness.   

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