Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography to detect consciousness after severe brain injury

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Handbook of Clinical Neurology



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In recent years, rapid technological developments in the field of neuroimaging have provided new methods for revealing thoughts, actions, and intentions based solely on the pattern of activity that is observed in the brain. In specialized centres, these methods are now being employed routinely in the assessment of patients diagnosed with so-called "disorders of consciousness," mapping patterns of residual function and dysfunction and helping to reduce diagnostic errors between related conditions such as the vegetative and minimally conscious states. Both functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) have now been shown to be effective tools for detecting covert awareness in behaviorally nonresponsive patients when standard clinical approaches have been unable to provide that information. Indeed, in some patients, communication with the outside world via simple "yes" and "no" questions has been achieved, even in cases where no possibility for behavioral interaction exists. These studies have profound implications for clinical care, diagnosis, prognosis and medical-legal decision making relating to the prolongation, or otherwise, of life after severe brain injury. Moreover, the results suggest an urgent need for a re-evaluation of the existing diagnostic guidelines for behaviorally nonresponsive patients to include information derived from functional neuroimaging.