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Thu., Nov. 10, 2011, 3:12 p.m.

Dead or alive in there?

Have you ever worried that you might end up (after an accident or a stroke) with a body that doesn't work at all but a brain still active?

It happens. Read or watch The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the true story of the writer who was still intact in his brain and ended up writing a book by blinking his eyes and choosing letters on a chart.

Anyway, scientists recently discovered that EEG tests can help indicate if anything is still going on in the mind of a person unable to communicate. According to an Associated Press story:

Researchers used an EEG machine to examine brain waves and found that three of 16 vegetative patients could understand what they heard and follow instructions. EEG machines are far more common and less expensive than the large functional MRI scanners that have shown awareness in some vegetative patients in previous studies. So they could be set up in a patient's room, avoiding logistical problems that can make it dangerous or impossible to have a vegetative patient scanned at an fMRI facility, researchers said.

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Spokesman-Review features writer Rebecca Nappi, along with writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., discuss here issues facing aging boomers, seniors and those experiencing serious illness, dying, death and other forms of loss.