Alzheimer’s patient’s end-of-life brain activity

Alzheimer’s disease is a merciless thief. It robs its victims of everything that represented who they once were. To be in the presence of these victims, they appear as if there is “no-one home”. But which faculties remain as death approaches? What state is the brain in?

I had the privilege of being with my father-in-law until he died, aged 93 years. He had a severe case of Alzheimer’s disease for several years prior to his death. His speaking to us, which had been minimal for a year or so, ceased altogether some months prior to his death; he appeared to have no capacity to recognise anyone; occasionally he made small gestures as if reaching out his hand; his face was expressionless; he slept most of the time; he could still feed himself but only just, very slowly and sparingly.

The brain activity reading below was taken a few hours before he died. It is reassuring to know that, despite his condition, his brain was calm. His brain was functioning at a serene level. His EEG reading looks like it could have been that of a relaxed meditator or a person in the prime of life;  not that of a very ill man, his system in shut-down and only hours from death.

The brain is a marvellous instrument. The mind, even when the rest of the body has surrendered, continues to function, perhaps in a fashion greater than we give it credit for.

It is entirely possible that the mind of my father-in-law was fully aware. At the level of mind, he comprehended the stage of life his body had reached. His family had kept a vigil for two days. Yet it was only a few minutes after we had left his room that he breathed his last. Perhaps his spirit left the room with us.

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