Originally published March 9 2015
Telling family stories to coma patients helps them regain consciousness faster, study says
by Jonathan Benson, staff writer
(NaturalNews) There is a strikingly powerful and somewhat mysterious human and familial element involved in the healing process that is often ignored by modern medicine. This is clearly demonstrated in a new study published in the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, which found that coma patients whose family members read them familiar stories while unconscious regained awareness significantly faster than patients who simply recovered on their own.
Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital observed that coma patients benefited significantly from just hearing a familiar voice while unconscious, responding in ways that other patients did not. The voice of a loved one telling a story helped coma patients both regain consciousness and begin responding to conversation and directions more quickly.
For six weeks, 15 patients who had suffered a traumatic closed head injury due to motorcycle or car accidents, bomb traumas or assaults were enrolled in the Familiar Auditory Sensory Training (FAST) treatment program. Each of the patients, 12 of whom were men, underwent baseline testing to observe responsiveness to sensory information, including things like bell noises and whistles.
If they could detect this sensory information, the patients were asked to open their eyes and visually track someone walking across the room. During this time, some of the patients were also exposed to audio recordings of their family members telling familiar stories, which were played for them four times daily. The control group was exposed to blank noise four times daily.
While the stories were being played, researchers tracked and analyzed blood oxygen levels in the patients' brains and compared them to levels when the stories weren't being played. They observed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans that the stories told in familiar voices resulted in notably increased neural activity.
Patients who heard these recordings -- and specifically, their names called out by a family member prior to the stories being told -- recovered significantly faster than the control patients, who out of compassion were given exposure to their own familiar stories at the end of the trial period.
"We believe hearing those stories in parents' and siblings' voices exercises the circuits in the brain responsible for long-term memories," stated lead author Theresa Pape, a neuroscientist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "That stimulation helped trigger the first glimmer of awareness."
A familiar voice is what bridges the gap between comatose state and conscious reality At the beginning of the trial, those patients who were exposed to the stories only responded to them if they were told by a familiar voice, indicating some kind of subconscious awareness and identification of auditory patterns, even while unconscious. It also suggests that the unique resonance and tonal qualities of a familiar voice play a direct role in neural healing, which has powerful implications.
Over the course of the whole trial, however, coma patients exposed to the stories began responding to them even in unfamiliar voices, which the researchers attribute to improved sensory ability. In other words, stories told in a familiar voice help draw coma patients out of their coma more quickly than normal, while the stories themselves, regardless of the voice, help finish the process.
"This indicates the patient's ability to process and understand what they're hearing is much better," added Pape. "At baseline they didn't pay attention to that non-familiar voice. But now they are processing what that person is saying."
"[There is] a clear effect, a therapeutic effect when patients hear these stories."
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