Help for Those With Traumatic Head Injuries
Using guided imagery with semi-comatose patients
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to assist recovery from trauma.
Do you have any suggestions about guided imagery or meditation tapes that might be useful for an 18-year-old who has sustained a head injury and is semi-comatose? Also, do you know of any research studying guided imagery's effectiveness in this area?
A: There are many excellent general healing audio programs available now. Both Emmett Miller and Jeanne Achterberg have produced some fine recordings, as has Jon Kabat-Zinn and Joan Borysenko. I've sometimes recommended our stroke tape for this kind of situation, because there is imagery in there for imagining the body working to rebuild itself and to generate alternate neurological routes for getting sensory motor function back.
The only hesitation I have is that if the voice or content is incompatible or grating to the patient, there's no way she can say, "Hey, shut that miserable thing off!" But if you know her likes and dislikes, I'd say, yes, by all means, give it a try.
Although I don't know of any studies with semi-comatose patients, my colleagues and I have certainly heard plenty of anecdotes, including those from patients who were once comatose. In looking back and reporting on their experiences, they remembered a great deal of what was said and done while they were presumably non compos mentis.
In a tangentially related vein, I'm aware of some studies involving anesthesia that show that people pick up information while under its influence. The most recent one I know about was done at Columbia Presbyterian by principal investigator David Adams, M.D., with cardiac transplant patients.
I remember hearing years ago about one compelling study--I wish I could cite the reference, but I can't--where random single digits were printed on cards and then placed on top of a tall piece of equipment in the O.R. No one working in the O.R. could see them--you'd have to be looking down from the ceiling to do that. And they were randomly assigned and switched, so no one knew from one day to the next which number was up there. Evidently, several O.R. patients later reported looking down on the number, or in a more non-specific way, woke up with the number "on their minds." The tentative conclusion of the study: that patients' consciousness or "spirits" had floated up and looked down on the proceedings and somehow perceived the number. Pretty wild, huh?
I would definitely go on the assumption that information is being taken in by this young woman. The worst thing that could happen is that your efforts would be wasted, or as I said earlier, you could drive her unconscious self crazy with a recording that irritates her sensibilities and she can't tell you to turn it off.
But I would think you'd hate to err in the other direction and not make use of an opportunity to help her heal on whatever level and in whatever form that may take. My vote: Any gentle, positive, affirming stimulation of her senses would be a good thing.
Thanks for writing.