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Researchers developing new way to measure consciousness

Sometimes, accidents (such as car accidents or workplace accidents) cause individuals to suffer brain injuries. Brain injuries can have many effects on their victims.

Sometimes, brain damage a person suffers impacts a person's consciousness. One challenge when it comes to treating such injuries is that there are currently significant shortcomings when it comes to the ability to measure consciousness. Currently, doctors largely rely on observing external factors (such as whether a person physically reacts to stimuli) and basic scanning of the electrical activity of the brain to track consciousness. These methods don't always yield accurate and exact results.

Why are shortcomings when it comes to the ability to measure consciousness a problem? One problem with these shortcomings is that they can lead to uncertainty among doctors as to what treatment to provide a patient with a brain injury that has impacted consciousness, as what level of consciousness a person has can impact what treatment options are best. Another problem with these shortcomings is that they can make it difficult to see if treatments given to a patient in response to a brain injury impacting consciousness are actually having positive results.

Thus, a more accurate and precise way of tracking and measuring consciousness could be of great benefit.

Currently, researchers are in the process of trying to develop such a method. The method researchers are working on involves: delivering a magnetic pulse into a patient's skull, using an EEG to measure the brain's response to this pulse and then using a formula to turn the data from the EEG into a numerical measurement of consciousness. The researchers refer to this measurement as the perturbation complexity index.

This method is currently in the experimental stage. It will be interesting to see how the work on this method progresses and if the method is ultimately found to be an effective and practical way to measure consciousness.

Source: The San Mateo Daily Journal, "New tool peeks into brain to measure consciousness," Lauran Neergaard, Aug. 20, 2013

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