Accidental EEG Recording of Dying Patient Offers Tentative Glimpse into Our Final Moments

Jessica George ’24

Figure 1 EEG recording of dying man reveals brain activity typical in memory recall.

In our relentless pursuit for knowledge, perhaps one of the most perplexing questions to humankind is what happens when we die. Several individuals who have undergone near-death experiences (NDE) describe their “life flashing before their eyes.” There is also the classical theory of a hypoactive brain during the end stages of life, where the brain ceases all electrical activity. Contrary to this long-held theory, experimental rodent research examining neural electrical activity as the animal was euthanized exhibited end-of-life electrical surges immediately after cardiac arrest. Even more recently, analysis of a patient case study by Raul Vicente and colleagues from the Henan University School of Medicine depicted similar oscillatory patterns in the human brain. 

A 2016 case report about an 87-year-old male who had suffered a fall shows that the victim suffered from bilateral acute subdural hematomas, which led to a decline in his neurological function. After removal of the hematomas and treatment with antiepileptic drugs, an electroencephalography (EEG) revealed at least 12 observable electrographic seizures. The patient’s health continued to degenerate and his seizures were shortly accompanied by the development of cardiorespiratory arrest. Despite cessation of treatment, 900 seconds of EEG data were unintentionally recorded from the patient’s brain. Researchers identified strong modulation of the low and broad gamma power by the alpha band using a technique known as cross-frequency coupling. This observed cross-coupling between alpha and gamma brain activity is typically associated with memory recall and other cognitive processes in healthy individuals. Given this information, researchers speculated that this oscillatory brain activity may support the generation of a memory replay in the near-death state.  

Though these findings are intriguing, it is important to note that the case report only examines the neurophysiological data of a single 87-year-old male, so it may not be generalizable to others. Additionally, no comparable EEG recording representing normal brain activity was recorded for the patient due to the presence of antiepileptic drugs. 

Nevertheless, the results provide a foundation in determining the neural correlates of NDEs, opening doors to a new frontier in scientific research. Further exploration into additional case studies and the location of these wave patterns would be necessary to substantiate the findings of this analysis.

Works Cited

[1] R. Vicente, et al., Enhanced interplay of neuronal coherence and coupling in the dying human brain. Front. Aging Neurosci. 22, (2022). doi:10.3389/fnagi.2022.813531

[2] Image retrieved from:

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