Hearing is the Last Sense You Lose Before You Dieadmin
The spoken words you may share with an unresponsive loved one as they lie on their deathbed may not fall on deaf ears after all, according to a new study led by scientists from the University of British Columbia, IFLScience.com reports.
“In the last hours before an expected natural death, many people enter a period of unresponsiveness,” study lead author Elizabeth Blundon said in a statement. “Our data shows that a dying brain can respond to sound, even in an unconscious state, up to the last hours of life.”
The study authors monitored the activity in the brains of unconscious patients nearing the ends of their lives at a hospice in Vancouver using electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain. They compared these readings to the EEG readings from other hospice patients who were still conscious, as well as a healthy control group. Each of these groups were played a series of tones in a recurring pattern with occasional notes that didn’t follow the trend. They found that even the most unresponsive patients showed evidence of responses to the changes in tone pattern.
However, while the brain is responding to certain sounds, it’s not clear whether or not the brain can make out specific words or meaning. “Their brains responded to the auditory stimuli, but we can’t possibly know if they’re remembering, identifying voices, or understanding language,” Blundon explained. “There are all these other questions that have yet to be answered. The first glimpse supports the idea that we have to keep talking to people when they are dying because something is happening in the brain.”
Read the full study in Scientific Reports.