We all know what coma looks like thanks to multitudes of Hollywood movies and productions that instructed us in the true meaning of being alive but simply not there. And while it is true for a lot of comatose people, a big part of those affected are also what we may describe as in and out. These people are experiencing what medical professionals and specifically neurologists call “Minimal consciousness”. The minimally conscious can be aware at times of what is going on around them and but aren’t able to communicate. This can be extremely frustrating for relatives and most certainly for the patients themselves as well.
- This month however, researchers were able to make a big leap in this area as they successfully made patients in this particular state respond to commands, identify objects and even in some cases, communicate. The magic happens thanks to a daily session of brain stimulation through electric signals transmitted directly through the skull into the prefrontal cortex for 20 minutes. The technique is called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and lasts five days. The results have so far been overwhelmingly positive on patients that have been minimally conscious for at least three months.
- It was found in this study that the prefrontal cortex, the region responsible for high level cognitive functions such as consciousness and reconciliation, when stimulated with low levels of electricity can transfer the waves through to other parts of the brain thus creating consciousness.
The implications of such a finding are extremely promising. This means that comatose people and other with similar consciousness related conditions may now stand a chance of waking up, at least partially and to be able to communicate with the outside world. According to the research team, this may even be possible through a specific device that could facilitate this communication.