In a November 4, 2022 Medscape article titled “‘Lucid Dying’: EEG Backs Near-Death Experience During CPR”, researchers found brain wave recordings taken during in hospital cardiac arrest resuscitation (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) lends support to near-death experiences reported by some people who survived cardiac arrest.
In the Medscape article and according to lead investigator Sam Parnia, MD, PhD:
“These recalled experiences and brain wave changes may be the first signs of the so-called ‘near-death’ experience, and we have captured them for the first time in a large study,” lead investigator Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, with NYU Langone Health, says in a news release.
Identifying measurable electrical signs of lucid and heightened brain activity during CPR, coupled with stories of recalled near-death experiences, suggests that the human sense of self and consciousness, much like other biological body functions, may not stop completely around the time of death, Parnia adds.” (Emphasis added)”
According to the article, the researchers used “audiovisual testing of awareness with continuous real-time EEG and cerebral oxygenation monitoring” during the resuscitation.
While only 53 of the 567 patients survived (9.3%), 28 survivors completed interviews with 11 reporting “unique, lucid experiences during resuscitation.”
According to Dr. Parnia:
“Our understanding of death has gone through a seismic shift in the last few years,” and
“The biological discoveries around death and the postmortem period are completely different to the social conventions that we have about death. That is, we perceive of death as being the end, but actually what we’re finding is that brain cells don’t die immediately. They die very slowly over many hours of time,” Parnia noted. (Emphasis added)
Dr. Parnia presented the findings November 6 at a resuscitation science symposium at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2022 in Chicago.
The Medscape article also noted that not everyone agrees:
“Ajmal Zemmar, MD, PhD, with University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, noted that several studies, including this one, “challenge the traditional way that we think of death — that when the heart stops beating that’s when we die.”
The observation that during cardiac arrest and CPR, the brain waves are still normal for up to an hour is “fairly remarkable,” Zemmar told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.
“However, whether there is conscious perception or not is very hard to answer,” Zemmar cautioned.
“This type of research tries to bridge the objective EEG recordings with the subjective description you get from the patient, but it’s hard to know when conscious perception stops,” he said.”
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
Over the decades, there have been many studies of near-death experiences and an October 31,2022 Medscape article by a nurse practitioner who describes how both negative and positive near-death experiences can impact an individual.
There is even a 2020 Frontiers in Neurology article “The Neurology of Death and the Dying Brain: A Pictorial Essay” that explores some of the potential effects of issues like near-death experiences on the clinical determinations of death and organ donation.
But whether or not you believe in near-death experiences, there is one crucial lesson here: We must always treat any ill person-awake or presumed unconscious-with the respect due any person when we talk to and care for them.
I have often told the story of “Mike”, a young man catastrophically injured in a car crash whose doctor said the if he survived, he would be a “vegetable”. We nurses talked to Mike and eventually he started to respond to us but not the doctor.
Mike was shipped off to a nursing home but almost two year later, he returned to thank us and told us he was getting married. When we laughed and told him how he started to respond to us but not the doctor, Mike became very serious and said he would not respond to the doctor because he heard the doctor call him a “vegetable”!
But my favorite story is about working on a medical floor caring for an elderly gentleman who was dying and showed no awareness of his 4 adult sons sitting at his bedside.
I encouraged his sons to talk to him, but they said they didn’t know what to say and didn’t think he could hear anyway.
I took the man’s hand and noticed that it was strong and callused like a man who worked with his hands.
I asked the sons was their dad did and they all started relating stories about his love of farming and then told funny stories about how their dad reacted to their antics growing up.
Pretty soon, all the sons were laughing and telling their dad how much they appreciated him as I quietly left at the end of my shift.
When I returned the next day for my next shift, I was not surprised to learn that the dad had peacefully died during the night with his sons at his side. But I was surprised to find that one of the sons stayed until I came back and wanted to talk to me.
“Lady, you were right! He did hear us!” he told me.
It turned out that the sons had continued talking to their dad after I left and when they said they were ready to leave, their dad opened his eyes, looked at them, smiled and then closed his eyes and peacefully died.
What a wonderful memory for his sons-and me!