Awakening After a Sleeping Pill: Man With Serious Brain Injury Temporarily Recovered After 8 Years

Sleeping Pill Brain Injury

Patient with serious brain injury can temporarily talk, walk, and recognize family members.

A patient who could not move and talk spontaneously for eight years started to do so again after being administered a sleeping pill. The spectacular but temporary effect was visualized with brain scans, giving researchers from Radboud university medical center and Amsterdam UMC a better understanding of this disorder’s underlying neurophysiological processes. The article has been published in Cortex.

Eight years ago, Richard, at the time a man in his late 20s, was hospitalized after a serious lack of oxygen. He survived but suffered a severe brain injury. Richard was no longer able to talk, eat independently, or move spontaneously. He was admitted to a specialized nursing home. Willemijn van Erp, an elderly care physician and researcher at Radboud university medical center, was still in training when she met Richard. “It was clear that Richard saw and heard us,” she says, “but because of his brain injury, he was barely able to respond to us.” This rare condition is known as akinetic mutism. Akinetic means that the patient is no longer able to move consciously. Mutism refers to the absence of speech.

Remarkable effect

There is a small chance that patients with this condition will temporarily recover after administering the Zolpidem sleeping medication. Van Erp: “Because Richard’s situation seemed hopeless, the family and I decided to administer this medication to Richard. Against all expectations, Zolpidem had remarkable effects. After taking the sleep pill, Richard started talking, wanted to call his father, and started recognizing his brothers again. With some help, he could even get up from his wheelchair and walk short distances.”

Overactive brain

Researchers at Amsterdam UMC, including neurosurgeon resident Hisse Arnts, have used brain scans to demonstrate the differences between the two situations. This provided them with information that could be important for Richard and other patients with severe non-congenital brain injuries. Arnts: “Richard’s brain scans show overactivity in certain parts of the brain. This overactivity causes noise and somehow shuts down the ‘good brain activity’. We have discovered that administering this sleeping medication can suppress this unwanted brain overactivity, creating space for speech and movement.”

Research continues

The researchers presented their findings and a video of Richard in the magazine Cortex. The research has since continued. Zolpidem’s positive effects have a limited duration, which is why the researchers are now looking for a more permanent solution for Richard and other patients with this specific form of severe brain injury.

Reference: “Awakening after a sleeping pill: Restoring functional brain networks after severe brain injury” by Hisse Arnts, Willemijn S. van Erp, Lennard I. Boon, Conrado A. Bosman, Marjolein M. Admiraal, Anouk Schrantee, Cyriel M. A. Pennartz, Rick Schuurman, Cornelis J. Stam, Anne-Fleurvan Rootselaar, Arjan Hillebrand and Pepijn van den Munckhof, 3 September 2020, Cortex.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2020.08.011

3 Comments on "Awakening After a Sleeping Pill: Man With Serious Brain Injury Temporarily Recovered After 8 Years"

  1. Good thing the doctors didn’t euthanize him right away after the accident since he, for 8 years, failed the definition of ‘human’ according to many modern ethicists.

  2. Aside from being very interesting and promising as an avenue of research for treating those with brain injury and perhaps other conditions, this video to me is extremely moving emotionally. To see this poor man in such a compromised state, and then the dramatic improvement after 8 years of that existence, with just the administration of a common medication, is just unbelievable. It was not mentioned how long the effect lasts, or if it can be repeated. Also, as a side note, the cause of his “serious lack of oxygen” was conspicuously missing from the article!

  3. If he didn’t have any family there when he was injured, I’m sure he would have been parted out on the spot as an organ donor.

    You can think all the happy thoughts you want, but the bottom line is money and transplants make the hospitals and surgeons hundreds of thousands of $ & you and your family are the only ones in that process that don’t make any money from your death.

    Even the mortician can sell your body parts.

    You are just a product that needs parts or a bucket of spare parts to the doctors and for profit hospitals.

    I’ve seen it happen.

    Sioux Falls south Dakota. The homeless young mans name was Joe House. His family lived on the east coast and he was taken in on an overdose. A day later he was fine cuz he didn’t really overdose. Friends went to visit him. Talked for a few minutes. They were interupted by hospital staff and asked to return the next day. They came back 2 hours later and he was dead.

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