When a person sustains a severe brain injury that leaves them unable to communicate, their families and doctors often have to make life-or-death decisions about their care for them. Now brain scanners are being tested in intensive care to see if mind-reading can enable some patients to have their say… .
At the moment, doctors ask the families of people who have a poor prognosis and cannot communicate if they think their relative would want to continue life-sustaining treatments such as being on a ventilator. “Life would be so much easier if you could just ask the person,” says Adrian Owen at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.
Owen’s team previously developed a brain-scanning approach for a much smaller group of people – those in states between consciousness and being in a coma, for example those in a vegetative state.
Owen is now using the same technique on people who are in intensive care in the first few days after sustaining a severe brain injury.
His team has so far used brain scanning on about 20 such people in intensive care to try to communicate with them. Owen won’t yet reveal how many responded to questions, nor whether he asked them if they wanted to live or die.