Lucid Dying: Recalling Death Experiences

Author: NYU Langone Health / NYU Grossman School of Medicine
Published: 2022/11/07 - Updated: 2022/11/08 - Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Contents: Summary - Definition - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: 20% of people who survive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after cardiac arrest may describe lucid experiences of death while seemingly unconscious. As the brain shuts down, many of its natural braking systems are released. Known as disinhibition, this provides access to the depths of a person's consciousness, including stored memories, thoughts from early childhood to death, and other aspects of reality. Further research is needed to more precisely define biomarkers of what is considered clinical consciousness, the human recalling the experience of death, and to monitor the long-term psychological effects of resuscitation after cardiac arrest.

Introduction

AWAreness during REsuscitation - II: A Multi-Center Study of Consciousness and Awareness in Cardiac Arrest

One in five people who survive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after cardiac arrest may describe lucid experiences of death while seemingly unconscious. On the brink of death, a new study shows.

Main Digest

Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and elsewhere, the study involved 567 men and women whose hearts stopped beating while hospitalized and received CPR between May 2017 and March 2020 in the United States and the United Kingdom. Despite immediate treatment, fewer than 10% recovered sufficiently to be discharged from the hospital.

Survivors reported having unique lucid experiences, including a perception of separation from the body, observing events without pain or distress, and a meaningful evaluation of life, including their actions, intentions, and thoughts toward others. The researchers found these experiences of death to be different from hallucinations, delusions, illusions, dreams, or CPR-induced consciousness.

The work also included tests for hidden brain activity. A key finding was the discovery of brain activity spikes, including so-called gamma, delta, theta, alpha, and beta waves up to an hour into CPR. Some of these brain waves normally occur when people are conscious and performing higher mental functions, including thinking, memory retrieval, and conscious perception.

"These recalled experiences and brain wave changes may be the first signs of the so-called near-death experience, and we have captured them for the first time in a large study," says Sam Parnia, MD, Ph.D., the lead study investigator and an intensive care physician, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, as well as the organization's director of critical care and resuscitation research."Our results show that while on the brink of death and in a coma, people undergo a unique inner conscious experience, including awareness without distress."

Continued below image.
Artist impression of near-death experience.
Artist impression of near-death experience.
Continued...

Identifying measurable electrical signs of lucid and heightened brain activity, together with similar stories of recalled death experiences, suggests that the human sense of self and consciousness, much like other biological body functions, may not stop completely around the time of death, adds Parnia.

"These lucid experiences cannot be considered a trick of a disordered or dying brain, but rather a unique human experience that emerges on the brink of death," says Parnia. As the brain shuts down, many of its natural braking systems are released. Known as disinhibition, this provides access to the depths of a person's consciousness, including stored memories, thoughts from early childhood to death, and other aspects of reality. While no one knows the evolutionary purpose of this phenomenon, it reveals "intriguing questions about human consciousness, even at death," says Parnia.

The authors conclude that although studies to date have not been able to prove the reality or meaning of patients' experiences and claims of awareness about death, it has been impossible to disclaim them either. They say recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine empirical investigation without prejudice.

Researchers plan to present their study findings at a resuscitation science symposium that is part of the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2022 taking place in Chicago on Nov. 6.

Some 25 hospitals in the U.S. and U.K. participated in the study, called AWARE II.

Only hospitalized patients were enrolled to standardize the CPR and resuscitation methods used after cardiac arrest and the recordings made of brain activity.

Additional testimonies from 126 community survivors of cardiac arrest with self-reported memories were also examined in this study to understand better the themes related to the recalled experience of death.

Parnia says further research is needed to more precisely define biomarkers of what is considered clinical consciousness, the human recalled the experience of death, and to monitor the long-term psychological effects of resuscitation after cardiac arrest.

Presentation

This presentation is titled "AWAreness during REsuscitation II: a multicenter study of consciousness and awareness in cardiac arrest" and is scheduled to be presented during the resuscitation science symposium at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2022 on Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago Hotel in Chicago.

Funding

Funding and support for the study were provided by:

Study Authors and Researchers

Besides Parnia, other NYU Langone study investigators are:

Other study investigators are:

Resources That Provide Relevant Information

Attribution/Source(s):

This peer reviewed publication titled Lucid Dying: Recalling Death Experiences was selected for publishing by Disabled World's editors due to its relevance to the disability community. While the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or brevity, it was originally authored by NYU Langone Health / NYU Grossman School of Medicine and published 2022/11/07 (Edit Update: 2022/11/08). For further details or clarifications, you can contact NYU Langone Health / NYU Grossman School of Medicine directly at nyulangone.org Disabled World does not provide any warranties or endorsements related to this article.

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