So, we as a civilization might be getting dumber, but our technology is more than making up for it. A man in Canada is in a vegetative state, but through the witchcraft that is science, he’s able to communicate to doctors.
Twelve years ago Scott Routley was in a car accident that, at the time, doctors believe rendered him in a persistent vegetative state. He was uncommunicative, and showed no signs of awareness. His family swore up and down that he would attempt to communicate back to them, whether by moving his eyes or thumb, but medical staff didn’t believe them.
Enter science. BBC reports that British neuroscientist Professor Adian Owen used an fMRI machine to monitor Routley’s brain activity while asking him questions. His brain activity would change when questions were asked. Routley made it clear that he wasn’t in pain, probably the first thing his family wanted to know.
An fMRI machine tracks brain activity by looking at blood oxygenation and flow. Changes in blood flow indicate changes in brain activity. Before looking at injured patients, healthy people were similarly scanned to provide for a baseline.
Professor Bryan Young — Routley’s long time neurologist — sees this as a medical marvel that will force revisions in medical textbooks. ”He had the clinical picture of a typical vegetative patient and showed no spontaneous movements that looked meaningful,” Young said.
Even more interesting is that another patient, Steven Graham, was able to not only communicate, but create new memories while in this state. He was able to answer “yes” to the question of whether or not his sister had a daughter. His nice was born five years after his brain injury.
Of course, no two brain injuries are alike — another testee showed zero function on the fMRI scan. Another, who wasn’t fully assessed with the scan, showed limited brain activity and awareness.
The questions were limited to yes and no questions, for obvious reasons.
Question: How awesome is this?