We often wonder what we experience in the last moments of our waking lives. We fear that we will experience pain, that we won't be ready to cross over, or that we will be alone in our final moments. So far what happens in the brain as we die has been a source of mystery, but today science may be one step closer to getting the answer.
As it turns out, our lives really do flash before our eyes. We may be able to live through our happiest memories as our last impression of our time here on Earth.
Scientists recorded the brain activity of an 87-year-old man at the moment he died and what they found could change our understanding of life and death.
Some of the best discoveries in science that have shaped our understanding of ourselves and our purpose on this earth have been unintentional. One event leads to another forming our knowledge and sparking ideas to test new information. The experience of the brain studying the brain is especially fascinating.
Similarly, neuroscientists inadvertently recorded the dying brain of an 87-year-old man as they were detecting and treating seizures in the patient. But when he suffered cardiac arrest, his brain scan revealed surprising information.
Dying Man's Brain Activity
The patient, who remains unnamed, was admitted to the Vancouver General Hospital with epilepsy. However, the elderly man unexpectedly suffered a heart attack during his procedure. Due to his "Do-Not-Resuscitate status", the doctors stopped treatment and the patient passed away in their presence.
However, researchers happened to be taking recordings from his brain before he suffered the fatal cardiac arrest. These recordings known as an electroencephalogram (EEG) were meant to help perform tests that detect electrical brain activity in brain to learn more about what was happening in it during seizures.
The image above was taken at the point of death.
Life Recall Recorded
The most notable discovery was that for about 30 seconds before and after the man's heart stopped beating, activity increased in the parts of the brain associated with memory recall, meditation, and dreaming. This information supports a theory known as"life recalls" which suggests that we do really relieve our whole life in seconds, or a flash, just before we die.
More and more studies are revealing that the brain remains active during and immediately after death. Now, this discovery takes it one step further by adding that the gamma waves in the brain also orchestrate the whole flood of memories of our entire lives when we die.
Caught On Scan
These Rhythmic brain wave patterns were recorded in the scan above that was taken as the pilepsy patient was dying from a heart attack. Since the EEG machine kept running, doctors were able to get a glimpse into the human brain activity at the moment we end our lives and capture it for the first time.
"This is why it's so rare because you can't plan this. No healthy human is going to go and have an EEG before they die, and in no sick patient are we going to know when they're going to die to record these signals," explains the study author and neurosurgeon Ajmal Zemmar.
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Between Life And Death
EEG is a method of recording electrical activity of the brain that requires for the patients to wear electrodes placed along their scalp. Thanks to this scientific tool Dr. Zemmar was able to measure 900 seconds of brain activity around the man's time of death and then investigate it .
He concludes that the time between and death is not that black and white. Our brains don't just shut off with our bodies: "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," Dr. Zemmar says.
As we learned the brain kept producing activity even after death: "Surprisingly, after the heart stops pumping blood into the brain, these oscillations keep going," he adds.
When Does Life End?
This study raises new questions about how we define life and death and makes us wonder at what point our life really ends. Dr. Zemmar is himself intrigued: "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."
Such studies push science forward and show the true power of the human mind. We barely understand our own capacity and could be tapping into much higher potential. Knowing that death is imminent should push us to live our best lives to create enough happiness to recall. But it also shows how capable the brain is at organizing and delivering biological responses..
Hope For The Grieving
This discovery is good news for the living, especially those who have lost a close loved one. Dr. Zerman understands how difficult it is to deliver news of death firsthand. The breaking of the death news to distraught loved ones and family is painful. But his findings give him a new sense of hope.
"Something we may learn from this research is: although our loved ones have their eyes closed and are ready to leave us to rest, their brains may be replaying some of the nicest moments they experienced in their lives." In their last moments, we become our dead loved's one last impression of life.
Make Every Day Count
The study has been published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience and could alter science and future studies. However, it should also be a reminder of the impact we have on one another. One day when it's our turn to die, what is going to really matter? It's not going the latest iPhone, the hours we worked late, or the time we wasted on social media.
It's going to be the people that shaped us, the time we spent in nature, traveling, eating, and doing what we loved. The more you do of that, the more you create a worthy string of life memories to run through in your final moments.
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