Boston doctors may soon be able to better determine treatment for unconscious patients. Scientists in Italy are reporting breakthroughs in measuring consciousness in patients with traumatic brain injury. The technique could be used for patients who can no longer speak, move their hands, blink or bodily make any responses intelligible to the outside world. Researchers estimate that about 40 percent patients who were thought unresponsive are actually conscious but just unable to move.

The technique that the Italian scientists have developed relies on the characteristic of integration in the brain. Integration is when seemingly disparate brain cells act in unison in response to a stimulus. Magnetic resonance imaging can reveal a lot about a person’s brain, doctors say, but the new technique may be even better suited to detecting consciousness. This is achieved by placing a magnetic coil near the brain and measuring the integration effect as the cells respond.

Scientists used EEG readings to keep track of the brain’s responses after it was stimulated with a pulse from the magnetic coil. They then scored the readings to highlight what they call information-rich responses, in which the integration effect scores higher and thus signals a higher level of consciousness. Lower scores indicate a lower level of consciousness.

Traumatic brain injuries can be devastating not only to the injured individuals, but also to their entire families. A Boston attorney who’s experienced in litigating personal injury cases may be of help if the injury was caused by another person’s negligence or recklessness. This help may include negotiating for compensation for medical expenses and other damages.

Source: Medical News Daily, “Brain injuries: measuring consciousness by ‘perturbing the brain’“, Marie Ellis, August 16, 2013