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Communication Found Possible With Some Coma Patients

Last Updated: February 03, 2010.

Basic communication can be established with some disorders-of-consciousness patients who are otherwise unresponsive, using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure neuroanatomically specific, blood-oxygenation-level-dependent responses to mental imagery tasks, according to a study published online Feb. 3 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Basic communication can be established with some disorders-of-consciousness patients who are otherwise unresponsive, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure neuroanatomically specific, blood-oxygenation-level-dependent responses to mental imagery tasks, according to a study published online Feb. 3 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Martin M. Monti, Ph.D., of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and colleagues conducted a study of 54 patients with disorders of consciousness. To see if the patients were able to willfully modulate their brain activity, the researchers used two mental imagery tasks and measured brain activity with functional MRI. They then developed a method to communicate yes/no answers to simple questions using the tasks.

The authors report that there were five patients who were able to willfully modulate the activity of their brains, including two for whom bedside testing did not reveal any signs of awareness. In one patient, bedside communication was impossible, but the patient could answer yes or no questions during functional MRI using the technique the researchers developed.

"In the future, this approach could be used to address important clinical questions. For example, patients could be asked if they are feeling any pain," Monti and colleagues write. "With further development, this technique could be used by some patients to express their thoughts, control their environment and increase their quality of life."

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