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Voices of family help coma patients recover faster

iStock | monkeybusinessimages

iStock | monkeybusinessimages

A new study says hearing familiar stories from loved ones can speed up recovery for coma patients.

Published in Neurorehabilitation & Neural Repair, the new study from Northwestern Medicine and Hines VA Hospital had coma patients hear familiar stories read by family members four times a day for six weeks via headphones. Patients who heard the stories recovered significantly faster than those who didn’t.

“We believe hearing those stories in parents’ and siblings’ voices exercises the circuits in the brain responsible for long-term memories,” said Theresa Pape, lead author of the study, in a press release. “That stimulation helped trigger the first glimmer of awareness.”

Pape also said that the benefits of talking with coma patients extends to the families as well.

“Families feel helpless and out of control when a loved one is in a coma,” Pape said. “It’s a terrible feeling for them. This gives them a sense of control over the patient’s recovery and the chance to be part of the treatment.”

Patients were observed in an MRI while listening to the stories, and Pape says researchers saw changes in the blood oxygen level in regions of the brain related to long-term memory and understanding language. Baseline studies were done to compare familiar versus unfamiliar voices, as well as voices versus other audible stimuli like bells.

Many have long felt that coma patients had some awareness of their surroundings. What have you noticed? Share your own stories of coma patients that you feel have been helped by being spoken to while unconscious.

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