Hearing is, in fact, thought to be the last sense to go before an individual dies and is present when the patient is otherwise unresponsive.
Caring of our unconscious patients often includes talking to them during daily care. I remember often chatting to my unresponsive patients and witnessing other nurses talking to theirs.
New research coming out of the UK shows us that vegetative patients can indeed hear.
Researchers performed brain scans on patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.
The patients were asked to perform mental tasks.
Researchers discovered that some individuals were able to control brain activity in a way that suggested signs of awareness and cognition.
In one case, the individual was able to communicate yes and no via a fMRI. In other cases, patients were able to show changes in brain activity when responding to researchers.
The authors conclude:
“A small proportion of patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state have brain activation reflecting some awareness and cognition.”
“Careful clinical examination will result in reclassification of the state of consciousness in some of these patients,” they added, and suggested the “technique may be useful in establishing basic communication with patients who appear to be unresponsive”.