Death During Brain Scan Gives Doctors Unique View Of Brains Final Moments

An 87-year-old man’s sudden death during a routine brain scan has given researchers a glimpse of the brain at the moment of death.

The patient had previously suffered a subdural hematoma – bleeding between the skull and the brain – and doctors decided to operate and remove the blood clot.  The operation appeared to be successful and the patient seemed to be recovering nicely until he developed seizures, something which he didn’t have a history of before the brain bleed.  As a result, doctors ordered an electroencephalogram (EEG) on the brain.  The EEG is a routine procedure that simply attaches a patch of electrodes to the scalp to detect abnormalities in your brain waves that may be causing issues, such as seizures.

During the EEG, the patient had a heart attack and died.  The unexpected course of events left researchers to interpret the brain wave patterns of a dying human brain.

“We did not plan this; it was all accidental,” said Ajmal Zemmar, neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, where the operation was performed. “Unfortunately, he sustained a cardiac arrest and died, which left us with a rare data set recording from life to death.”

According to a study of the data, the top memories of our lives might actually flash before our eyes when we die.  Just like in the movies.

The heart of the findings revolved around studying brain oscillations or brain waves around the time of the patient’s death. Just before the patient’s heart stopped supplying blood to the brain, Zemmar recalled a magnitude of changes in gamma oscillations, which are responsible for high-cognitive functions such as concentrating and dreaming. They also observed changes in theta oscillations, a slightly slower brain wave that reflects the state between wakefulness and sleep.

These patterned brain oscillations continued until 30 seconds after the patient’s heart stopped beating, leading researchers to believe that we might experience memory recall in our final moments.

So we finally have a glimpse into the brain at the moment to death.  But what happens after death may forever remain a mystery.

For more information about the situation, Discovery Magazine has an in-depth article available. Subscription may be required.

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