“Sometimes they’ll respond emotionally, someone will walk in and they’ll have tears in their eyes,” said Bernat of a minimally-conscious patient. “These are things that are obvious evidence of awareness, it isn’t just a reflex.”
Dr. Michael DeGeorgia, a neurologist and director of the Reinberger Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, said more research like this study is needed to understand how much information a minimally-conscious patient can process.
DeGeorgia said it’s possible that patients might be “locked-in,” or able to understand what’s going on around them but unable to respond. Although other treatments such as medications or deep brain stimulation have been used to try and stimulate responses from patients, DeGeorgia said this experiment stood out because the treatment was non-invasive, simple to test and effective.
“The wiring is still intact. There’s still somebody there, you just have to stimulate it up a notch to make them more interactive,” said DeGeorgia. “It changes everything for the family if you understand that your loved one is still there and hearing you and can be communicative.”