Familiar Voices May Lift Patients Out Of Comas


Posted on 17th May 2010 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Karen Schroeder would tell the relatives of coma patients not to give up hope.

That’s because her own son came around after participating in a clinical trial that was researching whether hearing familiar voices can have a positive impact on traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients.


When Schroeder’s son Ryan, 22, suffered brain injury after being thrown from a snowmobile into a tree last year, doctors said they doubted he would survive. The youth, who is from Huntley, Ill., wasn’t aware of his surroundings and couldn’t speak, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

At that point, Schroeder was willing to do anything to help her son, so she enrolled him in the trial. The Schroeder family recorded stories for Ryan and played them for him four times a day, through headphones.    

That program seemed to have had an impact. Just a month into the six-month study, Ryan started to regain consciousness.  Perhaps he would have seen that same level of improvement without hearing the recordings his family played for him. Perhaps not.  

 No one knows at this point. That’s because the study is using  “double-blinded” methodology, so that some of the test participants had tapes with no voices played to them, while others heard their families’ voices played to them. The Schroeder fmaily doesn’t know which group Ryan fell into. They won’t know until the study is finished next year.

Now it’s been a year since Ryan’s accident, and at this point he can text his buddies and have a conversation, although his speech is slurred, The Sun-Times said. But he isn’t ready to return to his life as a civil engineering student at Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin.

To be a participant in the study, a person either had to have been in a vegetative state, namely lacking awareness, or just minimally conscious.

The Sun-Times reported that so far three of the five people participating in the study regained consciousness at the conclusion of the six weeks period.

The clinical trial is being funded by the federal Department of  Veterans Affairs, with the work being done in part by researchers from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of  Medicine.

Lead researcher Theresa Pape believes that listening to familiar voices may help repair TBI patients’ damaged neural networks.







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