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Cognitive recovery from 'persistent vegetative state': psychological and personal perspectives
WILSON, B.A., Gracey, F., & Bainbridge, K.
Brain Injury, 15 (12), 1083-1092
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This study reports on the case of a young woman who, at the age of 26, developed a severe encephalomyelopathy and was in a vegetative state or minimally conscious state for 6 months. She showwed a sleep-wake cycle, but no evidence of cognitive functioning. Sis months after her illness, she began to respond to her environment and eventually returned home to the care of her parents, with regular periods of respite care in a home for people with severe physical disabilities. She remains in a wheelchair with a severe dysarthria and communicates via a letterboard. Two years after her illness, staff at the home requested an assessment of her cognitive functioning. On the WAIS-R verbal scale and the Raven's Progressive Matrices, the woman's scores were in the normal range. So too were her recognition of real versus nonsense words and her memory functioning (apart from a visual recognition memory test which was in the impaired range). Although she enjoyed the tests, she became distressed when asked about her illness and previous hospitalization. She was reassessed 1 year later, when there were few significant changes in her test scores but she could talk about her illness and hospitalization without becoming distressed. She was angry, however,about her experiences in the first hospital. Further tests suggested good executive functioning. In short this woman's cognitive functioning is in the normal range for most tasks assessed, despite a severe physical disability and dysarthria, and despite the fact that she was vegetative/minimally conscious for 6 months. Although some recovery following 6 months of being vegetative/minimally conscious is not unknown, it is rare, particularly for those with non-traumatic injuries, and the majority of people similarly affected remain with significant oognitive deficits. This client has, by and large, made an almost complete cognitive recovery. She feels positive about her life now and says the formal assessmnet showed people she was not stupid and this made her happy. The paper concludes with the young woman's own comments and views about what happenend to her and her present feelings.