Hope for vegetative patients

April 24, 2009


One of the most terrible decisions we can be faced with can be dealing with a patient in a vegetative state. New research now suggest that 40% of coma patients in such a condition may be misdiagnosed and only an estimated 20% of patients return, like the Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond, after his car crash in September, to fully functioning normality after serious brain injury.

Hope comes from Cambridge neuroscientist Dr Adrian Owen who has instigated a groundbreaking neuroscientific research programme that is set to transform the prospects of diagnosis for long term vegetative state patients. He has devised a scanner that can reveal evidence of fluctuating levels of brain activation in such patients when offered visual stimuli such as family photographs. Even minimally aware patients can retain emotions, personality, and a capacity to suffer and it is time to stop the tragic myth that a persistent vegetative state can reliably be diagnosed just by observing the patient. If Dr Adrian Owen’s pioneering work can help reduce that tragic 50% of misdiagnosed patients then he is to warmly encouraged and hopefully supported with plenty of grant money that I see too often wasted on pointless research.


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