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Assessing consciousness in brain damaged patients

Researchers are still looking for a reliable way to measure the level of consciousness in patients with severe brain trauma. It is hard to assess the level of consciousness in these patients because many cannot even blink or move their fingers. A team of researchers from Italy says that current methods that assess images of the brain or the level of neuron activity are not reliable.

The team from Italy developed a way to measure the level of consciousness using a magnetic coil held to the head of the patient. The magnetic field stimulates some neurons in the brain, and the effect spreads to other neurons. The team of researchers then measured the responses in the brain with an electroencephalogram. The researchers compared the responses of healthy people in various states of consciousness to those of 20 patients who had suffered brain damage. The team claims that they have developed an objective test that can be used in intensive care units to reliably measure levels of consciousness.

A group of researchers from Belgium has worked on assessing consciousness in coma patients by checking the patients' resistance to eye opening. The Italian research team says that their results are more measurable.

The Italian team pointed out that about 40 percent of patients initially thought to be unresponsive were later found to have some level of consciousness. The fact that various research groups are still, in this age of advanced technology, looking for credible methods for measuring levels of conscious is of concern to some medical malpractice attorneys. Doctors make life and death decisions based on current methods of assessing consciousness that researchers say are not reliable. Patients might be pronounced dead or taken off life support based on such assessments. Medical malpractice attorneys may be able to help the family of a victim if they died due to an incorrect assessment of consciousness

Source: Medical News Today, "Brain injuries: measuring consciousness by 'perturbing the brain'", Marie Ellis, August 16, 2013

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