Near-Death Patients Reveal Brain Activity After Heart Stopped

Even when our heart ceases to beat, whispers of activity may persist in our brain. In a continuation of a significant study on the enigmatic experiences of dying, signs of possible consciousness have been observed in cardiac arrest patients during resuscitation efforts.

Conducted by the New York University Grossman School of Medicine team, along with critical care and medical experts, the research delved into the memories and experiences of patients in the US and UK who underwent CPR.

In an exploratory substudy, the team monitored EEG activity and brain oxygen levels during CPR, offering insights into the waning activities of multiple brains on the brink of death.

Out of 567 patients included in the study, 213 experienced pulse return. From these, only 53 managed to leave the hospital alive, and a mere 28 were fit enough for subsequent interviews. These statistics underscore the devastating effects of cardiac arrest.

The cessation of the heart’s rhythmic pumping can quickly lead to a rise in toxic waste products and an oxygen deficiency, affecting critical cells. The brain, with its vast energy needs, is particularly vulnerable.

Although CPR can aid circulation, helping the body regain its regular functions, it’s not as effective as the heart’s natural pumping. As time goes on, the likelihood of recovery diminishes.

The implications for brain functions remain somewhat ambiguous. Both experimental rat studies and observations of dying humans indicate that the brain might linger for an extended period before going completely silent after adequate circulation stops.

Interpreting these neural activities, especially in the context of personal accounts of emotional and sensory experiences during near-death situations, remains a work in progress. Dr. Sam Parnia has dedicated years to understanding the phenomenon of death, exploring both its neurological and psychological dimensions.

As the principal researcher of the AWAreness during Resuscitation (AWARE) study from 2014, this new research aims to expand upon prior discoveries with a more extensive cohort and refined approach.

For the AWARE II initiative, Parnia and colleagues employed an app, tablet, and headphones on 365 CPR-administered patients, seeking indications of awareness despite apparent unresponsiveness.

Among the 28 survivors interviewed, none remembered the images shown or the sounds played. However, this didn’t imply an absence of brain activity. Some of these survivors recounted specific details about their resuscitation, such as the feeling of chest compressions and hearing nearby medical staff.

Continuous brain monitoring suggested that despite compromised heart function, neurological activity might persevere. About 40% of survivors exhibited typical or nearly typical EEG patterns, even an hour into CPR.

These patterns are indicative of advanced cognitive activities. While not conclusive, these revelations suggest that our brain might still be processing environmental stimuli, memories, and emotions during CPR. This could shed light on how the brain ranks cognitive functions or handles the imminent threat of complete failure.