Dying Man's Brain Suggests Life Could Flash Before Our Eyes

87-year-old patient was hooked up to EEG machine at time of death
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 23, 2022 11:32 AM CST
Dying Man's Brain Suggests Life Could Flash Before Our Eyes
Brain waves as recorded by an EEG machine.   (Getty Images)

The last moments of a dying 87-year-old have raised something that researchers write in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience is "intriguing to speculate" about: that it's possible our life really could flash before our eyes as we die. They came to that conclusion somewhat accidentally. The patient was taken to the ER after a fall that caused a brain bleed and led him to develop epilepsy. Doctors hooked him up to an electroencephalography (EEG) machine, which measures and records electrical activity in the brain, in order to monitor and treat his seizures. But during the EEG recordings the man suffered a heart attack and died. Futurism reports that as a result, researchers were left with something unique: a 15-minute record of a dying man's brain activity.

"We measured 900 seconds of brain activity around the time of death and set a specific focus to investigate what happened in the 30 seconds before and after the heart stopped beating," says study author Dr. Ajmal Zemmar of the University of Louisville in a press release. Right before and right after the heart stopped working, there were "changes in a specific band of neural oscillations, so-called gamma oscillations, but also in others such as delta, theta, alpha, and beta oscillations," he notes. Those gamma oscillations (essentially brain waves) are associated with things like dreaming, meditating, and memory retrieval.

Zemmar's takeaway: "Through generating oscillations involved in memory retrieval, the brain may be playing a last recall of important life events just before we die, similar to the ones reported in near-death experiences." He says that in "challeng[ing] our understanding of when exactly life ends," some important questions are raised, "such as those related to the timing of organ donation." The Guardian flags a few caveats included in the study, among them that the patient's brain had suffered hemorrhage, swelling, and seizures, which can impact brain waves, and that he'd been administered anticonvulsant medication, which could have altered his neuronal network activity. (More discoveries stories.)

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