Doctors claim to have found a new way to assess the condition of patients in a vegetative state as the result of a severe brain injury. Most notably, the new “hidden levels of consciousness” may reliably indicate the likelihood of a patient to emerge from their unresponsive state.
In a hospital trial, brain scans using PET technology (positron emission tomography) appear to have found levels of consciousness never measured before in a third of patients who were unresponsive and had been diagnosed as in a vegetative state for more than a year. The majority of those found with the “hidden levels of consciousness” emerged from their state or were moved to a more responsive state within 12 months.
If the findings are found to be accurate, it could have huge ramifications for how patients in vegetative states are cared for. But it may also add fire to the flame of controversy surrounding how patients are treated when no measurable signs of consciousness can be found.
The doctors who led the study at the University of Liège were hoping to establish if the PET scans or other forms of brain scans were more reliable ways of predicting recovery than the standard bedside tests conducted by doctors. The standardized tests result in up to 40% of patients being misdiagnosed.
The findings have been published in the Lancet medical journal, but there is a detailed report also available from The Guardian.