Does someone's life really flash before their eyes when they're dying? Some amazing new research offers insight into what may happen during people's final moments of life, after doctors captured the first-ever recording of a dying human brain.
It happened by chance.
"It was a total accident," said Dr. Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville who led the study.
Doctors were running tests on an 87-year-old patient with epilepsy when he suffered a heart attack and died — while he was still hooked up to a machine that was recording his brain activity.
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"What we find is a very similar pattern of brain waves happening in the last 30 seconds before the heart stops pumping blood into the brain and 30 seconds after the heart stops pumping that into the brain; that was quite astonishing to us," Dr. Zemmar said.
The patient's brain waves were similar to what's seen in people when they're dreaming or meditating, just like those associated with memory flashbacks, Dr. Zemmar said. And, he said, it fits the description of what some people have described after surviving a near-death experience.
"I would like to think that it is a soothing feeling just before we die, and we experience the most memorable experiences of our life flashing in the span of seconds through our head just before we go," he said.
His work is now published in the journal "Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience."
Dr. Zemmar said the study was done in 2016, and they waited years to publish their work, reaching out to colleagues with the hope of finding more case studies. That’s how they realized just how rare it was to capture this type of brain recording. Since this was only one case, more research is needed to determine if this phenomenon is something all of us experience or not.
But Dr. Zemmar hopes this case could bring comfort to grieving families after losing a loved one.
"These families have an unimaginable amount of pain in these moments. They are in freefall," he said. "If I can contribute to tell them that your loved one in this moment doesn't have pain, they're fine, they're experiencing the most memorable moments of your life before they go, I think that would mean a lot and comfort my patients."
CORRECTION (March 12, 2022, 1:50 p.m.): Dr. Zemmar's name was spelled incorrectly in an earlier version of this article.