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Brains may live longer than humans: Doctors stumped by brain activity after death

Doctors in a Canadian intensive care unit have come across something very unusual that cannot be explained.

They found that when life support was turned off for four terminal patients, one of them showed persistent brain activity despite being clinically dead.

I hate to be morbid, but while we are here, what does define clinically dead anyway?

It’s not as simple as you might think.

Death was once considered to be the point at which any of the vital functions (heartbeat, brain activity, respiration) stopped.

However, in the 1950s the mechanical ventilator came along, a device which can take care of breathing for you. That’s when a new category, “brain death” emerged. That’s a term for people that are “alive” but without brain function.

Even heartbeats and respiration measures can pose problems. In 2014, BBC News reported that a 91-year old woman had WOKEN UP IN A MORGUE after being declared “dead” for eleven hours. Her doctor said: “I’m stunned, I don’t understand what happened. Her heart had stopped beating, she was no longer breathing.” Try claiming that on Medicare.

So you are dead when the doctor says so, but mistakes do happen.

In the case in Canada, the doctors said that they confirmed death in all four patients through a range of observations. However, in one patient, “single delta wave bursts persisted following the cessation of both cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure (ABP)” for up to ten minutes.

They published the results of their discovery in The Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences yesterday.

As well as the presence of delta waves – which also appear when we sleep – the doctors found that death could be a unique experience for each person. This is because the frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings of each subject showed few similarities at the time of death.

Some may see this as proof of life after death but let’s all remain calm for a minute. The doctors are being very cautious about the results, suggesting it is far too soon to be calling this a “post-death experience”.

However, they are at a loss to explain what happened here. In their paper, they posit that medical equipment malfunction, human error or an unidentified physiological response might be behind it.

This is not the first scientific study to investigate what happens when we die.

Last year, a pair of studies found that over a thousand genes were still functioning in human cadavers several days after death.

In 2014, a team based in the UK announced the result of a four-year study that analysed the experiences of cardiac arrest patients. They reportedly found that 40 percent of survivors had some kind of “awareness” after death. In one case, that awareness lasted up to three minutes.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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Comments (1)

    Jo

    Sunday 26 March 2017

    And this is why there were wakes. Literally staying up all night with the corpse to be sure it didn’t “wake” sometime in the night.

    Reply