A Canadian man who was thought to have been in a persistent vegetative state for more than a decade has been able to communicate to scientists that he isn’t in any pain. This marks the first time that an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to give clinically-relevant answers to physicians.
Scott Routley, 39, was asked questions while having his brain activity scanned in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. Vegetative patients emerge from a coma into a condition where they have lucid periods, but have no perception of themselves or the outside world.
Routley suffered a severe brain injury in a car accident, 12 years ago and none of his physical assessments since then have shown any sign of awareness.
Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario, believed that Routley was clearly not vegetative.
Routley has a conscious, thinking mind. He was scanned several times and his pattern of brain activity shows that he is choosing to answer questions. “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.”
Another Canadian patient, Steven Graham, was able to show that he had laid down new memories since his brain injury. Graham answered yes when asked whether his sister had a daughter. His niece was born after his accident, five years ago.