When Thoughts Become Actions: Functional Neuroimaging In Altered States of Consciousness
The vegetative state is arguably one of the least understood and most ethically troublesome neurological conditions in modern medicine. The term describes a rare disorder in which patients who emerge from coma appear to be awake, but show no signs of awareness. Objective behavioural assessment of residual cognitive function can be extremely difficult, as motor responses may be minimal, inconsistent, and difficult to document, or may be undetectable because no cognitive output is possible. In this talk, I will describe a series of studies demonstrating that functional neuroimaging may provide one means for identifying residual cognitive function and even conscious awareness in some patients who are assumed to be vegetative, yet retain cognitive abilities that have evaded detection using standard clinical methods.