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The brain activity of a dying person was recorded for the first time ever

Updated Feb 27th, 2022 8:14PM EST
brain waves
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A patient’s unexpected death during a study has given us the first recording of a dying human brain. Scientists managed to capture the unique event while monitoring the brain waves of an 87-year-old-epilepsy patient. During the study, the patient experienced a heart attack and died while still being monitored. It’s a unique situation and one that has given us a new glimpse into how the brain reacts at the time of death.

Here’s what a recording of a dying human brain told us

human head and brainImage source: Andrea Danti / Adobe

While the study wasn’t designed to record a dying human brain, it did give us some great insight. The researchers recorded around 15 minutes of brain activity surrounding the time that the heart stopped beating. To see how the brain reacts at death, though, they focused on two 30 second intervals surrounding the exact time that the heart stopped.

Upon inspection, they discovered gamma oscillations in the recording. Gamma oscillations are brainwaves we associate with dreaming, memory retrieval, and meditation. As such, the phrase “my whole life flashed before my eyes” might not be that far off. Based on what they saw in the recordings, the researchers say that the brain may actually play a recall of important events in our lives when we die. It’s an interesting concept, and one that many have believed for years anyway. To see it finally solidified with scientific research is exciting, though.

Raising more questions

Doctor in a face mask with microscopeImage source: JHDT Productions/Adobe

While exciting, the results of this study have also brought about some additional questions. For one, Dr. Ajmal Zemmar, the lead author of the study, says that the findings challenge our understanding of when life ends (via New Atlas). It also raises some important questions regarding the time that organs are harvested for donation, too.

The research shows that the mind continues to work in a dying human brain, even when the blood has stopped flowing to it. This means its capable of coordinated activity even after death. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these kinds of waves in dying brains, though. We’ve also previously seen these waves in dying rats. However, this is the first time we’ve seen it in a dying human brain. Which makes it even more intriguing.

This is just a single case study, though. For any definitive results, we would need to have access to a much larger pool of information. Even then, there are other factors to consider, too. This patient suffered from epilepsy, though. As such, the results from other dying human brains could be quite different. The researchers have said they hope to continue studying the process. The researchers published a paper on the research in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.