Researchers from the University of Michigan set out to expand on previously-existing animal research from nearly a decade ago in their small follow-up study. The study team looked at brain activity in four deceased patients who had died of cardiac arrest while hospitalized. All patients were comatose and unresponsive and ventilator support was removed, as decided upon by the patients’ families.
As ventilator support was withdrawn, the researchers observed a boost in two of the patient’s heart rates and consciousness-related brain waves. The brain region in which the activity was detected has previously been correlated with dreaming and altered states of consciousness. However, the study team emphasized that no definitive (or even correlational) statements can be made regarding consciousness after death as a result of the study, as more extensive research is still needed.
Even so, the study findings may have begun to shed some light on the subject. “If you talk about the dying process, there is very little we know,” Jimo Borjigin, the leader of the study, told Livescience. “This is maybe the first study to really show second-by-second how the brain dies.”