Some mysteries of life have been unveiled with science. With the advancement of research and the passing of the years, studies have clarified what happens to people in a coma.
“Some patients who appear to be in a vegetative state are really aware of themselves and their surroundings and are able to create memories and imagine things just like anyone else.”explained Dr. Davinia Fernández for Psyciencia.
The psychologist and speech therapist at the University of Oviedo also explained that they cannot respond to the environment because an important communication route in the brain is interrupted.
This indicates another of the findings in the study published in JAMA Neurology, in 2015 and also led by Dr. Fernández: a structural damage in the communication between the primary motor cortex and the thalamus.
In this same portal, they point out that it must be taken into account that the primary motor cortex is in charge of planning and executing movements, and that the thalamus is considered the door of consciousness.
In this sense, they explain that this communication channel is essential to understand the reason why patients in a vegetative state are aware of their surroundings, even when they cannot respond.
More in detail, the media led by David Aparicio, points out that people in this state cannot respond to stimuli because “There is damage to the pathways that physically connect the thalamus, one of the centers of our consciousness, and the motor cortex, which drives voluntary muscle activity.. And therefore, the person in a coma cannot respond to stimuli and, therefore, cannot move either.
It must be borne in mind that the thalamus, which is located practically in the center of the brain and is considered the great regulator of the cerebral cortex, receives and filters sensations.
“We do pay attention to the relevant signals, which are sent to the cerebral cortex (the most evolved part of the brain). Said area is in charge of issuing a response, which, in turn, is returned to the thalamus, which is in charge of executing it”, explains Laura Ruiz, a graduate.
Now, among the antecedents of studies is the one published in 2005. At that time, the main author, Steven Laureys, from the Coma Scientific Group of the Department of Neurology of the University of Liège, told El Mundo that the data found were in the same line of previous work. In other words, they found that patients in a minimally conscious state (MCS) they feel pain, and they also react emotionally.
“For example, we have verified that noise without emotional significance (speaking to one of these patients) causes a smaller neuronal activation than that triggered by a crying baby or saying the name of the patient,” Laureys said 18 years ago.
Also for that same news, WEEK published at the time the interview with who was the president of the Brain Trauma Foundation, Jamshid Ghajar. He cited a study by Nicholas Schiff, a neurologist at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Hospital, who compared the brain activity of two minimally conscious men with that of seven healthy men.
For the experiment, images and cassette recordings were used with the voice of a person close to the participants who recounted familiar past events. The work showed that when the brain-injured patients heard the voices, a pattern in the brain similar to that of the healthy ones was activated.
Despite this evidence, even doctors do not know how to return an individual from that state. In fact, many could remain in such a circumstance their entire lives. A person can fall into one of these states when their brain has been deprived of oxygen for more than 10 minutes, either due to a stroke or heart attack. It also happens when there is a blow.