Our brains keep working moments after death, study says

A New York University study is assessing cardiac patients who had "near-death experiences" in the hospital. And its findings so far suggest that our brains really do keep working for a few minutes or more after we are "clinically dead."
By Linda Mack | Oct 21, 2017
Many emergency-room patients who temporarily die and resuscitate describe "near-death experiences" in which they still see and hear the scene around themeven though they were dead. They really are, according to some New York City clinicians who are gathering new evidence that brain activity continues and may even spike in the moments after a patient is clinically dead.

Sam Parnia, director of critical care and resuscitation research at New York University's Langone School of Medicine, is leading a study of patients who passed into clinical death while suffering cardiac arrest but were later revived. While the study is not complete, it has amassed a large body of interviews in which patients vividly described conversations or incidents that took place during the seconds or minutes when they were dead.

"They'll describe watching doctors and nurses working; they'll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them," Parnia toldLive Science. He added that the study corroborated patients' accounts with doctors and nurses who were with them when they died and that most of them agreed that the patients were remembering things that they should not have remembered.

Brain waves stop being detectable about 20 seconds after the heart stops, but actual brain death may take longer to unfold, according to Parnia. He said that brain cell-death pathways go into effect in a drawn-out process, and that this can take "hours" to reach its end.

The study follows the Canadian Journal of Neurological Science's publication earlier this year of an article that reported brain-wave activity in patients up to 10 minutes after their hearts had stopped beating. The journal authors cautioned that the findings raise serious concerns about organ harvests of newly deceased patients.

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