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Can patients in coma following traumatic head injury learn simple tasks?
Shiel, A., Wilson, B., Horn, S., Watson, M. & McLellan, L.
Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 3, 161-175.
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Initial observations that patients in coma showed a variety of responses when a cloth was placed over their faces generated a study investigating whether these patients could learn to remove the cloth. A method of backward chaining was used to teach the patients. Three experiments are reported. In the first study, five patients learned to remove the cloth while still in coma. In the second study, patients with a much lower Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score underwent the same procedure and all three removed the cloth while still in coma. The third experiment aimed to develop this procedure and two patients were trained to carry out other tasks using the same backward chaining technique. Both carried out the tasks while still in coma. The results of the study demonstrate that patients in coma following traumatic head injury developed increasingly reliable responses to specific stimuli. The theoretical and practical implications of these results are discussed.