Man can move again after 8 years of paralysis by taking sleeping pills …


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A Dutch young man who has been unable to move and speak for eight years due to brain damage can do so again for a short time after being given the sleeping drug Zolpidem. Brain scans show that this is possible because the sleeping pill removes an obstacle to these actions. Scientists from Radboudumc and Amsterdam UMC report this.

It concerns the thirty-something Richard, who is staying in a nursing home in The Hague. One particular activity in the brain – important for the transfer of information – is too intense and, in Richard’s case, dominates another brain activity necessary for moving and talking, the researchers saw from the brain scans.

“You could compare the brain, as it were, to a large string orchestra. With Richard the first violins play so loud that they drown out the other members of the string orchestra and they can no longer hear each other properly. Zolpidem ensures that these first violins play more ‘pianissimo’, so that everyone plays within time again, ”says fellow researcher Hisse Arnts, neurosurgeon in training. The fact that Richard does not go to sleep from Zolpidem, as another person would do, is probably due to the way his brain has become confused, Arnts thinks.

The problem, however, is that Richard gets used to the sleeping aid, so that the effect becomes shorter each time. Yet he still receives it regularly and the discovery provides a promising starting point for further research. “There is nothing you can do about something that is no longer there, but you can do something that you can slow down,” says geriatric medicine specialist and researcher fellow researcher Willemijn van Erp.

Hopeless situation

Richard is not the first to return to a normal situation briefly with such means; there are similar reports from Italy and South Africa. But how it happened has now been determined for the first time on the basis of the scans, according to medical centers.

Richard, in his late twenties at the time, suffered a severe lack of oxygen eight years ago due to choking. He could no longer speak, move and eat independently and no longer recognized family. He ended up in a nursing home with the very rare diagnosis of akinetic mutism.

“Because Richard’s situation seemed hopeless, the family and I decided to give the drug to Richard. After taking the sleeping pill, Richard started talking happily, wanted to call his father and it turned out that he recognized his brothers again. With some help, he was even able to get out of his wheelchair and walk a bit. ”

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