If you have a loved one who is currently in a coma or is at an increased risk of falling into one, you may wonder what a coma feels like. Understanding what a patient may experience while they are in a coma can help you determine ways to possibly care for them as best as you can.
Of course, there are different levels of severity, and the more severe the damage to the brain, the more serious the coma. Not every coma patient reports feeling or remembering anything, but some studies suggest there are certain things loved ones can do to increase the chance of recovery.
Below is a review of what a coma feels like — including insights into how healthcare professionals use the Glasgow Coma Scale — whether your loved one can hear you and what you can do for your loved one.
The Glasgow Coma Scale
The Glasgow Coma Scale is a scale from 3 to 15 that many healthcare facilities use to assess a person’s consciousness. The lower the score, the less conscious the patient is. A score of 15 represents a fully awake and conscious person, whereas a score between 3 and 8 likely suggests the patient is in a coma. The Glasgow Coma Scale assesses the patient in three different categories: eye-opening response, verbal response, and motor response.
The maximum score for eye-opening response is four, which indicates the patient’s eyes are open and able to blink. A score of three means they react only to stimuli, and a score of two on the eye-opening response chart indicates they only respond to pain. A score of one indicates no response.
The verbal response has a scoring system from five (oriented) to one (no response). A score between two and four indicates the patient’s verbal response is either confused, inappropriate, or incomprehensible. A motor response score ranges from one to six and tests the patient’s response to pain and other stimuli.
A coma is similar to a dream-like state because the individual is alive but not conscious. A coma occurs when there is little-to-no brain activity. The patient is unable to respond to touch, sound, and other stimuli. It is also rare for someone in a coma to cough, sneeze, or communicate in any way. Some can breathe on their own, although many who are in a coma require a machine to help them breathe.
Can Your Loved One Hear You?
During a coma, the individual is unconscious, meaning they are unable to respond to any sounds. However, the brain may still be able to pick up on sounds from loved ones. In fact, some studies suggest talking and touching a loved one while they are in a coma may help them recover.
With that said, everyone who goes into a coma has a unique experience. Some have reported remembering certain events that happened while they were in the coma, while many others have reported not remembering experiencing much of anything while unconscious.
Recovering from a Coma
Many who fall into a coma regain their consciousness over time. The ability to recover depends on the cause and severity of the brain damage the individual has suffered. Some move out of the coma and recover with little-to-no long-term effects, whereas others who move out of the coma may transition into a vegetative state.
A vegetative state is similar in that the individual will show no signs of awareness, despite being awake. The patient may also go into a minimally conscious state, where they show little awareness that may come and go. Those who do regain full consciousness may feel frustration and confusion as they come out of the coma. There are often long-term effects, although the severity of the effects varies depending on the nature and cause of the coma.
What You Can Do for Your Loved One
It is important to keep in mind that recovery from a coma mostly depends on the severity of the brain damage and the cause. However, there are certain things loved ones can do to potentially improve the chances of recovery.
For example, simple actions such as announcing who you are when you enter the room, having a casual conversation about activities in your life, and holding their hand while you are with them may help stimulate their senses.
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