Study confirms vivid death experiences in cardiac patients

A higher proportion of people may have vivid death experiences than previously believed, says a new study.

The experiences surrounding death merit a genuine unbiased investigation, a four-year international study of 2060 cardiac arrest cases has concluded, says a report in the online journal ScienceDIrect.

Out of body or near death experiences (NDEs) are often dismissed as hallucinations. In 2008, a large scale study involving 15 hospitals in Britain, the United States and Austria examined the broad range of mental experiences connected to death.

The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study was sponsored by the University of Southampton. For the first time, researchers tested the validity of conscious experiences using objective markers to determine whether claims of awareness compatible with out-of-body and near death experiences were real.

Sam Parnia, the director of resuscitation research at Stony Brook University New York, was lead author of the study published in Resuscitation. He described death as a "potentially reversible process" that occurs when the heart, lungs and brain cease to function. "We wanted to go beyond the emotionally charged yet poorly defined term of NDEs to explore objectively what happens when we die," he said.

Of those patients who survived cardiac arrest and were able to participate in a structured interview, 39% described a perception of awareness, but had no specific recall of events. Parnia said this suggested many have mental activity after death but cannot recall it because of brain injury or the effects of sedatives.

Only 9% had experiences compatible with NDEs, while 46% of those who reported a perception of awareness after death did not. Some patients explicitly "saw" or "heard" events taking place around them, others had frightening or persecutory experiences. One case was validated and timed using auditory stimuli during cardiac arrest. "In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat," Parnia said. In this case the visual recollections were also "consistent with verified events".

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