Life may actually flash before your eyes before death, new study says

Scientists Identify What Drives Alzheimer's Progress in the Brain.

The idea of “your life flashing before your eyes” before death has existed long enough to be considered a cliché. But a new study has revealed the first-ever record of brain activity during death and the results are astounding.

Researchers set out to measure the brainwaves of an 87-year-old patient who had developed epilepsy. But during the neurological recordings, the patient suffered a fatal heart attack — offering an unexpected recording of a dying brain, according to the study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience on Tuesday.

It revealed that the patient’s brain continued working not only as he passed away, but even in the seconds following heart stoppage. In the 30 seconds before and after the patient died, his brainwaves were the same as those that occur when dreaming or recalling memories.

“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. Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, who organized the study said. “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.”

While this study is the first of its kind to measure live brain activity during the process of dying in humans, similar changes in gamma oscillations have been previously observed in rats kept in controlled environments. This means it is possible that, during death, the brain organizes and executes a final biological response that could be seen across species.

Zemmar and his colleagues have cautioned that broad conclusions cannot be drawn from a single study. The fact that the patient was epileptic and had a bleeding and swollen brain complicates matters even more. Nonetheless, Zemmar intends to investigate additional cases and sees these findings as a source 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,” Zemmar said.

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