Woman in vegetative state plays tennis in her head

brainSeveral decades ago, a Chinese concert pianist was imprisoned as a political dissident for seventeen years, without access to music or a piano. Upon his release, when he resumed concerts, he astounded people by performing nearly as well as he had before his incarceration. When asked how he managed it, he replied, “I practiced every day in my mind.

If this performer’s experience is any indication, a woman in England who has been diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state” may one day be able to resume playing tennis one day – if she comes out of it and is able to recover from her physical injuries.
 
The woman, who was not identified, has been in her vegetative state for five months has the result of head injuries sustained in an auto accident. Nonetheless, she  appears to imagine playing tennis and to respond to commands in brain scans, according to researchers.

It should be noted that a “persistent vegetative state” is not necessarily the same as a “coma,” although the two share things in common. In a coma, a patient cannot be awakened, respond normally to pain or light, experience sleep-wake cycles, nor take voluntary actions.

The full article awaits after the jump!

brainSeveral decades ago, a Chinese concert pianist was imprisoned as a political dissident for seventeen years, without access to music or a piano. Upon his release, when he resumed concerts, he astounded people by performing nearly as well as he had before his incarceration. When asked how he managed it, he replied, “I practiced every day in my mind.

If this performer’s experience is any indication, a woman in England who has been diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state” may one day be able to resume playing tennis one day – if she comes out of it and is able to recover from her physical injuries.
 
The woman, who was not identified, has been in her vegetative state for five months has the result of head injuries sustained in an auto accident. Nonetheless, she  appears to imagine playing tennis and to respond to commands in brain scans, according to researchers.

It should be noted that a “persistent vegetative state” is not necessarily the same as a “coma,” although the two share things in common. In a coma, a patient cannot be awakened, respond normally to pain or light, experience sleep-wake cycles, nor take voluntary actions.

In a “persistent vegetative state,” the patient has lost cognitive neurological function and awareness of the environment but retains noncognitive function and a sleep-wake cycle. The patient may perform spontaneous movements and  open the eyes in response to external stimuli, but does not speak or obey commands. A  patient in a vegetative state can appear normal and may seem to have emotional responses.

The British researchers reported that the woman appears conscious despite her coma-like state. Other medical personnel disagreed. In any event, they advised the media that the present case is completely different from the (now largely forgotten)

case of Terri Schiavo two years ago, which became a major political issue in the U.S.

Neuroscientist Adrian Owen of Cambridge University and his colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or FMRI, to examine the woman’s brain. They watched her brain function when listening to sentences such as, “There was milk and sugar in his coffee.” The brain scan indicated brain activity comparable to that of healthy volunteers. When asked to imagine walking through her house or playing a game of tennis, the researchers saw that her scan lit up in the same areas of the brain as it would have in a healthy patient.

These results confirm that … this patient retained the ability to understand spoken commands and to respond to them through her brain activity, rather than through speech or movement,” wrote a member of the research team. French researcher Lionel Naccache commented that the patient appears to have “a rich mental life, including auditory language processing and the ability to perform mental imagery tasks.

On the other hand, neuroscientist Dr. Paul Matthews of Oxford University cautioned that the study does not necessarily mean she’s conscious. “Response to stimuli, even complex linguistic stimuli, does not provide evidence of a ‘decision’ to respond — withdrawal from an unexpected painful pin prick does not represent a ‘decision’ to respond,” he said.

Via Reuters

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