Often, a severe brain injury will leave an individual in a state in which it is difficult to tell if the person is conscious. A new study recently set out to develop a novel method of measuring consciousness in patients with brain injuries and/or locked-in syndrome. The researchers in the study, which was published in Science Translational Medicine, measured the amount of information the brain was handling with a system that shook the entire brain with magnetic stimulation, according to Bloomberg.
The researchers in the study combined two popular medical devices to conduct their research: a coil that delivers magnetic shocks to stimulate the brain and an EEG to record patterns of activity as neurons were activated. To quantify the data retrieved, the researchers established a formula that compares the complexity of the brain responses called the pertubational complexity index (PCI). The devices were utilized on 32 healthy people in various states of awakeness and on 20 people with a variety of brain injuries. The more aware the patient was, the higher the participant would score on the PCI.
According to USA Today, the researchers reported that two patients with locked-in syndrome scored about as high as people who were awake and healthy, demonstrating that they were aware. Additionally, patients in a vegetative state scored similarly as people who were unconscious due to strong anesthesia, but those who were minimally conscious scored in between. The researchers say the results of the study are promising for future research, but caution against giving the information too much weight.
The researchers claim “the strategy could miss consciousness, so it wouldn’t give doctors enough information for end-of-life decisions,” according to USA Today. Other scientists wonder if the families of individuals with severe brain injuries will get their hopes up too high once a sign of consciousness is apparent. Nevertheless, the research could be useful in determining which methods of treatment offer the best results.