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Near-death experiences captured in study first

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One in five people who survive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after cardiac arrest may report lucid experiences of death that occurred while they were unconscious and on the brink of death, new research shows.

The study involved 567 hospitalised men and women whose hearts stopped beating and who received CPR between May 2017 and March 2020.

The US and UK-based survivors reported having unique lucid experiences, including a perception of separation from their body, observing events without pain or distress and a meaningful evaluation their life’s actions, intentions and thoughts toward others.

The researchers concluded that these experiences of death were different from hallucinations, delusions, illusions, dreams or CPR-induced consciousness.

Lead study investigator Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, an intensive care physician, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, said:

“These lucid experiences cannot be considered a trick of a disordered or dying brain, but rather a unique human experience that emerges on the brink death.”

Part of the work involved tests for hidden brain activity.

One key finding was the discovery of spikes of brain activity, including gamma, delta, theta, alpha and beta waves up to an hour into CPR.

Some of these brain waves normally occur when people are conscious and performing higher mental functions, such as thinking, conscious perception and memory retrieval.

Identifying measurable electrical signs of lucid and heightened brain activity, alongside similar stories of recalled death experiences, suggests that the human sense of self and consciousness, much like other biological body functions, may not stop completely around the time of death, Parnia concluded.

The researcher said:

“These recalled experiences and brain wave changes may be the first signs of the so-called near-death experience, and we have captured them for the first time in a large study.

“Our results offer evidence that while on the brink of death and in a coma, people undergo a unique inner conscious experience, including awareness without distress.”

While no one knows the evolutionary purpose of this phenomenon, it clearly reveals “intriguing questions about human consciousness, even at death,” Parnia added.

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