(HealthDay News) – Patients who are nonresponsive due to severe brain injury can nevertheless selectively focus their attention to follow commands and communicate via a brain scan, according to a study published online Aug. 12 in JAMA Neurology.

Lorina Naci, PhD, and Adrian M. Owen, PhD, from Western University in London, Canada, performed functional magnetic resonance imaging on three patients with severe brain injury while they were asked a series of questions; the authors sought to assess their ability to selectively attend to a stimulus. Two patients were diagnosed as being in a minimally conscious state and one was diagnosed as being in a vegetative state.

The researchers found that all patients could follow a command (to count or relax). One of the patients in a minimally conscious state and the patient in a vegetative state were also able to communicate correct answers to yes-or-no questions.

“To our knowledge, we show for the first time with functional magnetic resonance imaging that behaviorally nonresponsive patients can use selective auditory attention to convey their ability to follow commands and communicate,” Naci and Owen conclude.

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