Lucid Dying: Patients’ Recall of Death Experiences During CPR

Lucid Dying: Patients’ Recall of Death Experiences During CPR

Lucid Dying: Patients’ Recall of Death Experiences During CPR

Abstract: 1 in 5 people who receive CPR report lucid death experiences while seemingly unconscious and on the brink of death. Lucid experiences appear to be distinct from hallucinations, dreams, illusions, and delusions. The researchers found that during these experiences, the brain increased activity and markers for lucidity, suggesting that the human sense of self, like other biological functions, may not completely cease at death.

Source: NYU Langone

One in five people who survive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after cardiac arrest can describe lucid near-death experiences that occurred while they were seemingly unconscious and on the brink of death, a new study shows.

Led by researchers at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and elsewhere, the study included 567 men and women whose hearts stopped beating while in the hospital and who received CPR between May 2017 and March 2020 in the United States and the United Kingdom. Despite immediate treatment, less than 10% recovered sufficiently to be discharged from hospital.

Survivors reported having unique lucid experiences, including the perception of detachment from the body, observing events without pain or distress, and meaningful evaluation of life, including their actions, intentions, and thoughts toward others. Researchers have found that these death experiences are distinct from hallucinations, delusions, illusions, dreams, or consciousness induced by CPR.

The work also included tests of hidden brain activity. A key discovery was the discovery of spikes in brain activity, including so-called gamma, delta, theta, alpha and beta waves for up to an hour after CPR. Some of these brain waves typically occur when people are conscious and performing higher mental functions, including thinking, memory retrieval, and conscious perception.

“These recalled experiences and brain wave changes may be the first signs of a so-called near-death experience, and we’ve captured them for the first time in a large study,” says Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, the study’s principal investigator and an intensive care physician, who is also an Esq. professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, as well as director of the Critical Care and Resuscitation Research Organization.

“Our results demonstrate that while on the brink of death and in a coma, people undergo a unique internal conscious experience, including non-disturbed awareness.”

Identifying measurable electrical signs of lucid and heightened brain activity, along with similar accounts of recollected death experiences, suggests that the human sense of self and consciousness, like other biological bodily functions, may not completely cease at the time of death, Parnia adds.

“These lucid experiences cannot be considered a trick of a deranged or dying brain, but a unique human experience that occurs on the brink of death,” says Parnia.

As the brain shuts down, many of its natural braking systems are released. Known as disinhibition, this allows access to the depths of a person’s consciousness, including stored memories, thoughts from early childhood to death, and other aspects of reality.

Although no one knows the evolutionary purpose of this phenomenon, it clearly reveals “intriguing questions about human consciousness, even at the moment of death,” says Parnia.

The authors of the study conclude that, although previous studies have not been able to fully prove the reality or meaning of patients’ experiences and claims of awareness in relation to death, it has been impossible to dismiss them. They say that the remembered experience of death now deserves further unbiased, genuine empirical investigation.

Lucid Dying: Patients’ Recall of Death Experiences During CPR
Researchers have found that these death experiences are distinct from hallucinations, delusions, illusions, dreams, or consciousness induced by CPR. The image is in the public domain

The researchers plan to present the findings of their study at the Scientific Symposium on Resuscitation as part of the American Heart Association’s 2022 Scientific Sessions to be held in Chicago on November 6.

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About 25 hospitals in the US and Great Britain participated in the study called AWARE II. Only hospitalized patients were included to standardize CPR and CPR methods, as well as brain activity recordings. Additional testimonies from 126 community cardiac arrest survivors with their own recollections were also examined in this study to provide a better understanding of themes related to the death experience they recalled.

Parnia says further research is needed to more precisely define biomarkers of what is considered clinical consciousness, the human experience of death, and to monitor the long-term psychological effects of resuscitation after cardiac arrest.

Financing: Funding and support for the study was provided by NYU Langone, the John Templeton Foundation, the Resuscitation Council (UK) and the National Institutes for Health Research UK

In addition to Parnia, other Langone study investigators at NYU include Tara Keshavarz Shirazi, Ph.D. Caitlin O’Neill, MPH; Emma Roellke, MD; Amanda Mengotta, MD; Dr. Thaddeus Tarpey; Elise Huppert, MD; Ian Jaffe, B.Sc. Annelly Gonzales, MS; Jing Xu, MS; and Emmeline Koopman, MS. Other study investigators include Deepak Pradhan, MD, at Bellevue Hospital in New York; Jignesh Patel, MD; Linh Tran, MD; Niraj Sinha, MD; and Rebecca Spiegel, MD, at Stony Brook University in New York; Shannon Findlay, MD, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City; Michael McBrine, MD, at Tufts University in Boston; Gavin Perkins, MD, at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK; Alain Vuylsteke, MD, at the Royal Papworth NHS Foundation Trust in Cambridge, UK; Benjamin Bloom, MD, at Barts Health NHS Trust in London, UK; Heather Jarman, RN, at St. George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London; Hiu Nam Tong, MD, at Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Foundation Trust in King’s Lynn, UK; Louisa Chan, MD, at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Hampshire, UK; Michael Lyacker, MD, at Ohio State University in Columbus; Matthew Thomas, MD, at University Hospitals Bristol and Wexton NHS Foundation Trust in Bristol, UK; Veselin Velchev, MD, at the University of St. Anna in Sofia, Bulgaria; Charles Cairns, MD, at Drexel University in Philadelphia; Rahul Sharma, MD, at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York; Erik Kulstad, MD, at Texas Southwestern University in Dallas; Elizabeth Scherer, MD, at the University of Texas San Antonio; Terence O’Keeffe, MD, at Augusta University in Augusta, Ga.; Mahtab Foroozesh, MD, at Virginia Tech in Roanoke; Olumayowa Abe, MD, at New York-Presbyterian in New York; Chinwe Ogedegbe, MD, at Hackensack University in Nutley, NJ; Amira Girgis, MD, at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey, UK; and Charles Deakin, MD, at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust in Southampton, UK

About this neuroscience research news

Author: David March
Source: NYU Langone
Contact: David March – NYU Langone
Picture: The image is in the public domain

Original research: The findings will be presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions


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