Monday, January 16, 2012

Terminal lucidity

You may already know that dying people who are comatose or delirious sometimes regain full lucidity in the last minutes, hours, or days before their death.  But, usually, the people being described were in the normal range mentally before their final illness.

What is even more amazing is when people who have been severely, chronically mentally ill, with dementia, or otherwise mentally disabled for many years become rational and lucid in their final moments.  This seems particularly remarkable in a brain whose architecture must have become pretty committed to a longtime dysfunction.

I don’t see how a neurological substrate for a clinical presentation of many years’ duration could change on a dime.  Especially when we’re talking about neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s where parts of the brain are simply destroyed.  It’s easier to imagine that the individual’s field of consciousness – intact and residing outside the brain -- becomes suddenly, temporarily more accessible.

This might be analogous to the proverbial mother who lifts a car off her child – without having developed the necessary muscles first.  It’s also reminiscent of people blind from birth who report having vision in their NDEs.

I try to understand the connection between the brain as transceiver and the development of psychic capacities.  But, it may also be the case that, under certain conditions, we can access our expanded capacities without having developed our "hardware."

If we can have consciousness without brain, then what is the point of going through neurological damage and subsequent remodeling both to regain functions and potentially add expanded capacities?  There must be some evolutionary advantage (see 4 Dec 11 post), a tertium non datur that is created by interaction between the spiritual and the physical.  Something brand new. 

Sources (thanks to Gerd Hövelmann):

Nahm, M. & Greyson, B.  (2009).  Terminal lucidity in patients with chronic schizophrenia and dementia: A survey of the literature.  Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 197, 942-944.

Nahm, M.  (2009).  Terminal lucidity in people with mental illness and other mental disability: An overview and implications for possible explanatory models.  Journal of Near-Death Studies, 28, 87-106.


  1. Came across your site after reading book by Pim van Lommel, "Consciousness after life."

    About 10 years ago I had to put down my Norfolk terrier, Murray who had canine cognitive dysfunction i.e. Canine Altzheimers.

    If you are not familiar with the fact that dogs suffer form this, please ask your vet or google it. It is a valid illness with dogs.

    The day before the vet came to our home, Murray, who only at times seemed to really feel comfortable with me, no longer knowing who I was all the time or maybe just knowing I was ok to be with, but not really knowing where he was all the time, had about an hour of what I call lucidity.

    His mood, demeanor changed and all the tension went out of his body and he relaxed and let me brush him. It was like he suddenly was no longer affected by his condition and was able to feel safe, comfortable, relaxed and "home" with me again.

    I had already arranged for the vet to come by the next day, but there is no way he could have known that.

    I have always felt it a gift that we had that short time together. I was afraid if I waited too much longer he would not know me at all and would not be able to feel comforted by me when he died.

    If you are not a dog/animal lover this may seem stupid to you but people who love their dogs and share that bond will know how important it is to respect, love and have compassion for all sentient beings.

    Just had to pass this along. Not even sure who I am writing to.

    1. Don't worry, DobieTracker, I'm an animal lover who has also lost an extra-close animal, so it's comforting to hear of others like me. Thanks very much for sharing this inspiring story. I'm so glad you and Murray had that window of terminal lucidity. It's an amazing gift in several ways. I had a similar experience with my beloved cat where he became relaxed and seemingly pain-free and made profound eye contact with me just before and during euthanasia. If you want to, I encourage you to reach out to Murray even now for a visit. I have had some success with this. I wish you and Murray happiness on your intertwined journeys. You obviously love each other very much. -- Sheila (see my profile on right to know who you wrote to)