Science To Help Coma Patients Communicate.
Adrian Owen, one of the pioneers of the use of ‘mind reading’ to communicate with patients with serious brain injury appeared at a packed ‘in conversation’ event in the Science Museum last night. During a Royal Society sponsored Lates, Adrian Owen discussed his attempts to use brain scanners to communicate with vegetative patients over two decades with Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs and author of The Mind Readers. People in a ‘vegetative state’ are awake yet unaware. Although their eyes can open, they can smile, grasp another’s hand, cry, groan or grunt, they are unable to see or to understand speech. It is, says Owen, as if their minds are clamped firmly shut. While working in Cambridge two decades ago, Owen made headlines worldwide by showing it was possible to use a brain scanner to find evidence of awareness in a supposedly ‘vegetative’ patient, Kate Bainbridge. He showed that Kate could react to faces: her brain responses were indistinguishable from those of healthy volunteers. Of course, whether that response was a reflex or a signal of consciousness was, at the time, a matter of debate. Unusually for these patients, Bainbridge surfaced from being vegetative six months after the initial diagnosis and described how she was indeed sometimes aware of herself and her surroundings.
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