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People who are dying can hear their loved ones' voices even if they're unresponsive, a new study shows.
The study, recently published in Scientific Reports, found that hearing was the last sense to go in the dying process and, as such, many loved ones were able to be comforted during their last moments.
Researchers looked at the patterns and electrical activity of dying brains and discovered that they could still respond to sound.
"Our data shows that a dying brain can respond to sound, even in an unconscious state, up to the last hours of life," said lead author Dr Elizabeth Blundon.
Dr Blundon, who works at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and her team collected data from healthy control participants, hospice patients when they were conscious and from the same hospice patients when they became unresponsive.
Researchers gave participants various patterns of common and rare sounds, and when the rare sound was played, some dying patients responded with similar electrical activity in the brain as the younger, healthier participants.
Professor Lawrence Ward added: "We were able to identify specific cognitive processes from the neuro-typical participants as well as the hospice patients."
Dr Blundon couldn't confirm that dying people were aware of what they were hearing. However, palliative care doctors are hoping that this news will comfort grieving friends and family who wonder if their words were able to help their loved ones.
Dr Romayne Gallagher, a palliative care doctor at St John's Hospice, says: "This research gives credence to the fact that hospice nurses and physicians noticed that the sounds of loved ones helped comfort people when they were dying.
"And to me, it adds significant meaning to the last days and hours of life and shows that being present, in person or by phone, is meaningful.
"It is a comfort to be able to say goodbye and express love."