You can get a “last memory flashback” before you die

what happens when we die As the moment of death nears, memories of your life can really flash before you, new research suggests.

This notion of a rapid burst of past memories just before death is not new, as experiences like this – and other phenomena, including out-of-body experiences – have been documented among those who survived near-death experiences.

Researchers have now reported what they believe may be the first evidence of such memory recalls in a human brain near death, in peer review Frontiers in aging neuroscience.

The patient treated was an 87-year-old man who presented to the emergency room at Vancouver General Hospital in 2016 after a fall. Three days after surgery to relieve a pool of blood between the skull and brain, the patient started having seizures and the medical team began an electroencephalogram (EEG) test to monitor his brain activity and treat the seizures.

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During this recording, the patient suffered a heart attack. The researchers recorded 900 seconds of brain activity before and around the patient’s death — the first-ever recording of a dying person’s brain, said Dr. Ajmal Zemmar, who treated the patient at Vancouver General Hospital in 2016 and is now a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, is a neurosurgeon where he continued the study.

An in-depth analysis of the patient’s EEG approximately 30 seconds before and after the patient’s heartbeat stopped identified brain waves that normally occur in healthy human brains when we recall memories, have out-of-body experiences, meditation, and similar experiences. These brainwaves, also called oscillations, that occur around the time of death suggest a possible “ultimate ‘recall of life’ that could occur in the near-death state,” the researchers wrote.

The pattern of these waves could be the neurophysiological basis of near-death experiences, Zemmar told USA TODAY.

The researchers raised concerns, including injuries, seizures, swelling, and anesthesia, that could make the data difficult to interpret. But there are similarities to the oscillations in healthy people having out-of-body experiences, and evidence from rats, where those brainwaves were also observed after cardiac arrest in a 2013 study, researchers said.

“We are seeing for the first time that the same brainwaves known to be responsible for dreams, meditation and out-of-body experiences in a healthy individual are now observed in the dying human brain,” Zemmar said.

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Are we getting a “final memory flashback”?

For the past six years, Zemmar and the research team have been trying to find another example of an EEG recorded at the time of death, because scientific data from a case is very thin ice to draw any conclusions from, he said. But unfortunately no other case was found, compelling the team to publish the only existing data set of a dying human brain.

“Something we can learn from this research is that even though our loved ones have their eyes closed and are willing to let us rest, their brains may be replaying some of the most beautiful moments they experienced in their lives ‘ Zemmar said.

Nurses could take comfort in the results, he said. Medical workers often have to tell family members that a loved one “sadly won’t make it. These situations never get easier, no matter how long you do the job,” Zemmar said.

“One of the things I hope this could do is I could tell them, ‘Your loved one is fine. You don’t suffer. You have no pain in the last moments of life. They play back memories of they’ve had you their whole lives,'” he said. “I think that would be something reassuring in this … extremely difficult situation of losing someone.”

For the rest of us, perhaps we’ll rest better knowing that there’s the potential for what researchers have dubbed a “final memory flashback” before we die.

When asked for spiritual advice on death, Zemmar said: “As scientists, we focus on interpreting data to understand nature, and we share our conclusions with society. From now on, everyone should decide for themselves how they want to see the spiritual side of death.”

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.

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