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An explanation for near-death experience

October 7, 2009 |  7:00 am

Sunset Near-death experiences are firmly rooted in medical lore. Many people who have been close to death or resuscitated report a similar experience: Feeling an "out of body" experience, seeing a bright light and experiencing a flood of memories. Many people consider the experience spiritual in nature, but a study published online this week reveals physiological markers of the event.

Researchers at George Washington University studied seven patients who had normal brain function but were fatally ill and whose families had chosen to withdraw end-of-life care. The patients, who had various illnesses including cancer, heart disease or multi-organ failure, were monitored with a device that measures level of consciousness as well as an electroencephalogram device that measures brain waves. The study showed that, in each case, loss of blood pressure was followed by a decline in activity related to consciousness. But then a spike of electrical brain activity appeared on the EEG recording in the moments just before death.

This burst of activity in all seven patients was comparable and consistent in duration.

The researchers suggest that because the spike in brain activity occurred when the patient had no blood pressure, patients who suffer "near-death" experiences may be recalling "aggregate memory" stored in the nerve cells of their brains.

"Near-death experiences have been documented by a large number of people," the authors wrote. "Interestingly, these descriptions tend to have a similar theme in that the recollection is vivid and detailed. ... The end of life is a poorly studied area of clinical medicine and deserves more attention."

The study is published online in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: David Zalubowski / Associated Press

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Comments (4)

Cool. More study on death would be a good thing. I think people are plain scared that they're going to find out the answer to the all consuming question of what happens after we die to be...........nothing, you're dead. They can't come to grips with that and so don't really want to find out. The truth about dying will destroy religion and quite possibly civilization. If you know what's going to happen when you die, you would change so many things about how you live. For one, I think most people would no longer tolerate spending the majority of their lives working. What would be the point?

The spike is supposed to be the near death experience of aggregate memory. The good doctors are unaware of what a real near death experience contains. Much more than memory.


Studies on NDEs how cute and yet another tax payer waste.
I was clinically dead for 45 minutes at the bottom of a lake when eventually found... and you are going to tell me it had to do with my brain? Uh huh.
What I experienced was far more powerful than anything my mortal brain could conjure up, and the experience was spiritual, and I will always remember it. Forget lab studies it is not real, and you scientists are not Divine one who meets the dead.

Yes, there are near death experiences. Three years ago I had a heart attack at home and was transported to the hospital. While in the Catlab, my heart sent even more sour. I remember the doctor trying to use compression which didn't work.... then I was gone. I remember trying to reach for something? and could not grasp it when my heart did a summer-sault. I came out of the attack and the nurse had to force my arms back down to my side.

I was very fortunate.


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