Man thought to be in vegetative state able to communicate

A Canadian man who was believed to have been in a vegetative state for more than a decade has upset medical assessments by showing that he can communicate.

Scott Routley, 39, was asked questions while having his brain activity scanned in a machine that measured the real-time activity of the brain. Different parts of his brain became active when he responded to suggestions and questions from doctors.

“We put him in an MRI scanner and while he is in the scanner we ask him to imagine doing certain things in his mind . . . for example, we ask him to imagine using his arms,” said British neuroscientist Professor Adrian Owen.

“Scott is unable to use his arms in reality but it turns out he is perfectly able to imagine moving his arms. And we can pick that up on the scanner and we can tell he’s doing what we ask him to do,” said Professor Owen, who led the research team examining Routley.

“And when we say ‘now stop doing that imagining’ . . . then we see the little blob in the brain disappear. But when we say ‘start it again now’ the blob lights up again.

“Scott has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is.”

Professor Owen said Routley had even been able to respond that “he wasn’t in any pain”.

Routley suffered a brain injury in a car accident 12 years ago. None of his physical assessments since then had shown any sign of awareness, or ability to communicate.

His parents say they always thought he was conscious and could communicate by lifting a thumb or moving his eyes. But this was never been accepted by medical staff.

Professor Bryan Young at University Hospital, London, Ontario — Routley’s neurologist for a decade — said the scan results overturned all the assessments that had been made over the years, and medical textbooks would need to be revised.



Toronto Star

Image: Toronto Star

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