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Ariel Sharon Showing Signs Of Brain Activity Seven Years After Stroke

It’s been seven years since former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a series of strokes that sent him into something that seems similar to a coma, but now we’re learning that there’s more activity going on in his brain than anticipated:

(CNN) – Comatose for seven years, Israel’s iconic former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is showing “significant brain activity.”

The 84-year-old suffered a devastating stroke January 4, 2006, and a brain hemorrhage. He was presumed to be in a vegetative state. But on Monday, a team of surprised neuroscientists and doctors said Sharon’s brain appeared to respond when they showed him pictures of his family and had him listen to his son’s voice. Doctors also used tactile stimuli to measure Sharon’s reaction.

Does this mean the man Israelis once dubbed the “Lion of God” could wake? Doctors urge caution.

(…)

Doctors tested Sharon like this: They would show him pictures of random houses, which he would not be expected to know, and then a picture of his own house.

When the images of his own home were shown, areas of his brain “lit up” with activity.

Doctors then had Sharon’s son speak into a device that turned the words into gibberish. Those sounds didn’t register in Sharon’s brain the same way as when his son actually spoke to him using real words.

“We know that he can process pictures — pictures of faces,” said Dr. Alon Friedman of Ben Gurion University. “And he can even differentiate between pictures of faces and pictures of houses, pictures of his family to other objects. He can differentiate between words that were spoken to him by his son, compared to a noise.”

Sharon’s brain activity was “encouraging” but “subtle,” according to a release from Israel’s Soroka University Medical Center, which conducted the tests last week.

They were administered by a team of U.S. and Israeli scientists.

Doctors are still trying to understand precisely what the results indicate. “But it doesn’t mean he’s going to sit up tomorrow and start speaking with his family,” said CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. “It just means that things that are familiar to him are just registering in his brain in some way.”

Ilan Shelef, head of medical imaging at Soroka University Medical Center said the test “doesn’t mean there is a very high process of interpretation” in Sharon’s brain. “We are not sure about it,” Shelef said. “What we know for sure (is that) there was a significant metabolic response to these stimuli.”

When two conscious people are speaking to each other, he explained, their brains are naturally reacting.

It’s unclear why someone in Sharon’s state would respond like that, he said.

He cautions against being overly optimistic.

“We know that he is in a very bad situation for many years,” Shelef said.

It’s impossible to know whether the test shows that Sharon’s condition is improving because, experts say, the test was not performed earlier in Sharon’s coma. So there’s nothing with which to compare these most recent results.

According to another report, the scientists are saying that it’s inaccurate to describe Sharon’s condition as a coma and that he’s likely in some state between being conscious and being in a coma. Of course, since these tests weren’t done seven years ago, we have no way of knowing whether this is an improvement from a previous condition or the condition that Sharon has been in for the better part of the past ten years. Additionally, it seems unlikely that Sharon will ever fully recover. Even if he’s not in a coma, it’s likely that major portions of his brain were severely damaged, and that’s something that just doesn’t repair itself as far as we know. Nonetheless, this is yet another indication of just how fascinating the human brain actually is. Even through all this damage, there’s apparently still some sliver of Ariel Sharon left. Whether he “thinks” the way you and I do, of course, is something we’ll probably never really know.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    This raises the uncomfortable notion of stroke victims being alive and thinking, but trapped in a non-functioning body. Just like “Johnny Got His Gun,” but without even the ability to tap out Morse code.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  2. C. Clavin says:

    “…Ariel Sharon Showing Signs Of Brain Activity Seven Years After Stroke…Easily Dismantles Jenos Indanian #13 Comment…”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    And the even more uncomfortable thought that some of those stroke victims may actually be conscious on some level, aware of what’s going on around them, and unable to do anything about it. Psychologically, that would just be pure hell.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Now if only the House would show signs of brain activity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  5. @Dave Schuler:

    There are some things even science cannot do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. JohnMcC says:

    This is an issue that happens to be in my ‘wheelhouse'; I’m an ICU nurse (for over 30yrs now) and have kinda specialized in neuro-trauma & neuro-surgery. The fact that the brain and central nervous system are “merely” biological systems that in their own way respond to injury and illness has a peculiarly disturbing effect for lots & lots of people — particularly when a family member suffers that injury or illness.

    If someone has an illness — a tumor, say — that impacts their pancreas/liver/gall bladder and tests reveal that there is a certain partial recovery of function to that system no one is shocked.

    But we feel that in the brain there is some essence that defines the ‘self’ or ‘soul’ or ‘personality’. I hear this all the time. “Can he hear me,” is the most common way people might express it. I think what they really mean is ‘Is “he” still there?”

    It’s always sort of a diffcult thing for brain research folks and neuro-medical people to deal with because we are thinking in terms of the biology of the situation — dealing with pressures and chemicals that can be measured but what people want to make of it is that somehow the soul or meaning of that person is there or not-there, is injured or altered or ill.

    So this is really unsurprising news from Israel. Mr Sharon’s brain, a biological system, has been terribly injured but retains (or regained) some functioning. But what this has to do with the “Ariel Sharon” that exists within the heads of we who “know” Ariel Sharon — that is the real question.

    Last I’ll say: Fill out a Living Will (or make your preferences known to your family) now while you can.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The 84-year-old suffered a devastating stroke January 4, 2006, and a brain hemorrhage. He was presumed to be in a vegetative state.

    You mean they didn’t know he was in a vegetative state before the stroke????? Proof that Jews aren’t as smart as we think they are.

    ps: yah, that was either really anti-Semitic or it was anti-anti- all the people who think Jews control everything. You decide….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Janiah says:

    Interesting that at the end of your post, under related posts, there is one entitled, “Ariel Sharon Dead at 77.”

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