Seeing minds in patients with disorders of consciousness

Brain Inj. 2020 Feb 23;34(3):390-398. doi: 10.1080/02699052.2019.1706000. Epub 2019 Dec 27.


Objective: To explore the ways in which health care professionals and families understand terms and concepts associated with disorders of consciousness.Methods: Open-ended, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 health care professionals and 18 family caregivers affiliated with a disorders of consciousness program within a nationally ranked rehabilitation facility in the United States.Results: Analysis revealed that: (1) disagreement between some health care professionals and family caregivers regarding the presence of consciousness can arise due to differing beliefs about a patient experiencing pain, and differences in the length of time family caregivers spend with patients relative to clinical staff; (2) some health care professionals and family caregivers use nonclinical terms and concepts to describe consciousness; and (3) some family caregivers might attribute complex mental capacities to patients, which extend beyond the clinical evidence.Conclusion: The beliefs of health care professionals and families regarding disorders of consciousness are complex and could be influenced by broader psychological proclivities to "see minds" in patients who have a liminal neurological status. Awareness of these dynamics may assist health care professionals when interacting with family caregivers.

Keywords: Minimally conscious state; caregiver; cognitive; psychology; rehabilitation; vegetative state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't