Doctors find patient brain activity continued for 10 minutes after death

March 10, 2017 by Bob Yirka report
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A team of doctors affiliated with the University of Western Ontario in Canada has documented a case in which a terminal patient removed from life support continued to experience brain wave activity for approximately 10 minutes after they had been pronounced clinically dead. In their paper published in The Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, the team describes the circumstances of the unusual event and acknowledge that they have no explanation for what they observed.

For many years, doctors have used a handful of tools to determine if someone has died—a lack of pupil dilation, heart stoppage, lack of breathing, etc. But one test has stood above all others—an EEG reading. Even if the heart is beating and a person is breathing, if the stops processing , that person is considered clinically dead—though in some cases they may be labeled as brain dead. But what if a person's heart stops beating, meaning there is no blood flow to the brain, and the brain continues to show delta wave bursts for up to ten minutes? Prior to this event occurring in Canada, it was thought to be an impossibility.

The unusual circumstance came about as the team in Canada was conducting routine research regarding the process of death in humans. As four terminal patients were removed from life support, their vital signs were monitored for a length of time. Three of the patients ceased emitting brain signals almost immediately after their hearts stopped, but the fourth instead began emitting signals that are normally seen in a person that is in a very deep sleep—delta waves—and continued to do so for 10 minutes and 38 seconds. The team conducted a series of tests to make sure it was not an equipment malfunction, and after finding no problems, reported that they had no explanation for what they had observed. But they also suggest further study, because their findings indicate it is likely that others have experienced brain activity after death as well, but no one has bothered to look for it.

They also noted that the prolonged brain activity did not resemble the "death waves" reported by another team recording in decapitated mice six years ago.

Explore further: Video: New test uses brain's electrical activity to pinpoint reading challenges early

More information: Loretta Norton et al. Electroencephalographic Recordings During Withdrawal of Life-Sustaining Therapy Until 30 Minutes After Declaration of Death, Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences / Journal Canadien des Sciences Neurologiques (2016). DOI: 10.1017/cjn.2016.309

Related Stories

Video: New test uses brain's electrical activity to pinpoint reading challenges early

January 24, 2017
Children who have difficulty learning to read, in addition to being at risk for depression, also can suffer from increased rates of bullying and can experience poorer relationships with their parents and teachers, according ...

Near-death brain signaling accelerates demise of the heart

April 6, 2015
What happens in the moments just before death is widely believed to be a slowdown of the body's systems as the heart stops beating and blood flow ends.

Polish baby born from mother on life support is doing fine

April 20, 2016
Hospital authorities in southwestern Poland say a baby born two months after his mother was put on life support is home and doing fine.

Depolarizing wave may trigger sudden death in epilepsy

April 9, 2015
A slow, depolarizing electrical wave – sometimes called a "brain tsunami" – may be the hidden cause of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, a disorder that kills as many as 4,000 people in the United States each year, ...

Brain activity may predict risk of falls in older people

December 7, 2016
Measuring the brain activity of healthy, older adults while they walk and talk at the same time may help predict their risk of falls later, according to a study published in the December 7, 2016, online issue of Neurology.

Recommended for you

Study reveals breakthrough in decoding brain function

September 25, 2017
If there's a final frontier in understanding the human body, it's definitely not the pinky. It's the brain.

Overturning widely held ideas: Visual attention drawn to meaning, not what stands out

September 25, 2017
Our visual attention is drawn to parts of a scene that have meaning, rather than to those that are salient or "stick out," according to new research from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis. ...

A brain system that builds confidence in what we see, hear and touch

September 25, 2017
A series of experiments at EPFL provide conclusive evidence that the brain uses a single mechanism (supramodality) to estimate confidence in different senses such as audition, touch, or vision. The study is published in the ...

Brain guides body much sooner than previously believed

September 25, 2017
The brain plays an active and essential role much earlier than previously thought, according to new research from Tufts University scientists which shows that long before movement or other behaviors occur, the brain of an ...

The rat race is over: New livestock model for stroke could speed discovery

September 25, 2017
It is well-known in the medical field that the pig brain shares certain physiological and anatomical similarities with the human brain. So similar are the two that researchers at the University of Georgia's Regenerative Bioscience ...

Touching helps build the sexual brain

September 21, 2017
Hormones or sexual experience? Which of these is crucial for the onset of puberty? It seems that when rats are touched on their genitals, their brain changes and puberty accelerates. In a new study publishing September 21 ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

sascoflame
5 / 5 (3) Mar 10, 2017
If they have brain waves they aren't dead.
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (4) Mar 11, 2017
Human creative thought generates an infinite array of potential for the continued development of civilization. These waves involved are quite real. Indeed, the most powerful dialogues of this type are in perpetual synchronicity with the totality of human history, past and future.
zork
not rated yet Mar 14, 2017
I guess that means that brain has built-in capacitors.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.