Main brain-damaged patients that are being written off as in a vegetative state are actually alert, despite being immobilized.  Recently, Doctors have started being able to recognize the signs of awareness, according to Melanie Boly, Neuroscientist at the Cyclotron Research Centre in Belgium.

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In searching for a ‘neural pattern for consciousness’, Boly and her team analyzed brain activity in Vegatative-state patients, minimally conscious patients and a group of healthy subjects while playing a series of audio tones.  In normal circumstances, the brain responds by sending information from the temporal cortex to the frontal cortex and back.

Boly found that the healthy and minimally conscious patients showed neural activity both back and forth, while truly vegetative patients did not.  If these findings are confirmed, if could allow doctors to focus treatments on patients that appear vegetative, but whose brain activity would be able to suggest otherwise.

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