A Glimpse of Life During Death
Have you ever wondered what we experience in our dying moments? New research has shown that we may actually see a flash of life’s memories in our last minutes.
Experimental studies on animals have shown there is an increase in brain activity prior to and after death. Research involving nine lab rats whose brain activity was analysed as they were being euthanized led to the discovery of an increase in electrical activity in the brain associated with consciousness. But a study published recently in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, proposes that the human brain may possess the capability to generate activity similar to remembering or concentrating during the near-death period.
The study is based on an unexpected incident that occurred in a real life setting, when an 87 year old patient suffering from epilepsy was being observed under continuous electroencephalography (EEG) when they suffered from a fatal cardiac arrest. The recording of the EEG provides researchers with evidence of brain activity patterns during and after death.
“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,” said Dr Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, US, who organized the study.
Brain oscillations or ‘brain waves’ are patterns of rhythmic brain activity normally present in living human brains. Different types of oscillations are involved in high-cognitive functions, such as concentrating, dreaming, memory retrieval, information processing, and conscious perception, just like those associated with memory flashbacks.
“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,” Zemmar speculated. “These findings challenge our understanding of when exactly life ends and generate important subsequent questions, such as those related to the timing of organ donation.”
But this evidence is all based on only a single case, involving a patient who had suffered a brain injury, swelling, and seizures, complicating the interpretation of the findings. Further evidence is needed to support the theory and answer further questions – such as, such as is there a strong biological basis for this phenomenon? Do any other species observe the same phenomenon? What memories are most likely to come to the forefront of one’s mind when they are dying? Only time and research will tell.