Science

Scientists reveal dying patients CAN hear last words of family at bedside as they slip away


Goodbye, my love… scientists reveal dying patients CAN hear last words of family at bedside as they slip away

  • Patients can still hear when transitioning from life to death, study finds 
  • It’s not known whether they can understand what they’re hearing or just hear
  • The study is the first to run tests into unconscious hearing at the end of life 

Patients can still hear what is being said to them when they are nearing the end of their life, a study has found. 

Even when the patient is unconscious and close to death, they still have their sense of hearing and can hear what their loved ones are saying to them. 

The study by the University of British Columbia focuses on patients transitioning from life to death, when the body begins to shut down, rather than people in a coma, The Times reported.  

It is the first study to run tests into unconscious hearing at the end of life. 

Even when the patient is unconscious and close to death, they still have their sense of hearing and can hear what their loved ones are saying to them (file photo)

Even when the patient is unconscious and close to death, they still have their sense of hearing and can hear what their loved ones are saying to them (file photo)

Researchers measured electrical activity in the patients’s brain with a hat containing 64 electrodes. 

They identified brain signals generated in response to complex tonal changes by playing a series of tone patterns to a young and healthy control group before replicating the test on a small number of hospice patients.  

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The researchers checked for the same signals when the patient was both responsive and unresponsive and found brain activity between the two were very similar, as well as to the activity found in the control group. 

Some patients showed brain activity which was a little more complex. 

It is not known whether the patient can understand what they’re hearing or whether they can simply hear the words. 

Lead author Elizabeth Blundon said that patients transitioning from life to death might recognise their favourite piece of music.  

The study could explain stories of patients ‘waiting’ for their loved ones to arrive at their bedside before dying. 

Hilary Jordan would chat to her husband Ian for almost 31 years after he suffered a head injury in a crash. 

He was working as a police officer in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1987 at the time.

She told the Canadian Press news agency that she said something to let him know it was OK if he left them. She had never said it before and shortly afterwards he passed away. 

Another important area for further study is whether patients also keep their sense of touch until the end of their life. 

Jenny Bone fell into a coma after falling ill with Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 2015

Jenny Bone fell into a coma after falling ill with Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 2015 and heard a doctor asking her husband about switching off her life-support

Ms Blundon added that it’s not possible for a patient to be able to smell or taste anything after they lose consciousness.   

Jenny Bone fell into a coma after falling ill with Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 2015. 

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While she lay in a medically-induced coma, she heard a doctor asking her husband about switching off her life-support.

She said: ‘I was aware of conversations around me. The most frequent one was being turned in the bed. A familiar “ready, steady, turn” would come from the nurses. 

‘The most alarming was between a doctor and my husband enquiring as to my wishes surrounding being kept alive on a ventilator and that they were unsure whether my mental ability had been impaired due to lack of oxygen while they were attempting to restart my heart.’   



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