Ian Jordan suffered a head injury when he and another officer were on their way to a call in Victoria in September 1987. He died in April 2018. (The Canadian Press)

Woman who talked to unconscious husband for 30 years gets solace from B.C. study

Ian Jordan suffered a head injury when he and another officer were on their way to a call in Victoria in September 1987

For 30 years, Hilary Jordan talked to her husband about the goings on in their family and the world but she wasn’t sure if the police officer injured in a crash could hear anything as he lay unconscious in a hospital bed.

“I like to believe that he did hear me,” she said in an interview this week.

“I said something to him before he passed, which made him know that it was OK to leave us, and I had never said those words before, so shortly thereafter he did pass. I do believe he could hear.”

Ian Jordan suffered a head injury when he and another officer were on their way to a call in Victoria in September 1987. He died in April 2018.

Now, research from the University of British Columbia suggests people who are unresponsive can hear, even hours before they die.

Lead author Elizabeth Blundon, who recently graduated from the university with a PhD in psychology, said the findings may bear out a persistent belief among health-care workers that hearing is the last sense to go in the dying process.

The study, published recently in Scientific Reports, was the first to investigate hearing when people are close to death, in one case six hours beforehand, Blundon said.

The research involved eight patients at a hospice doing a hearing task when they were still responsive. Five of them repeated the task when they became unconscious.

A control group of 17 young, healthy participants also took part in the study, which was completed between 2013 and 2017.

Participants wore a cap with 64 electrodes that measured brain waves as they listened to a series of tones grouped in five patterns that would occasionally change.

Those in the control group pressed a button when they heard the pattern change while the responsive patients at the hospice were asked to count the number of times the pattern changed.

The brain activity of the control group and the responsive hospice patients was very similar to that of the unresponsive patients, Blundon said.

“It’s an encouraging sign that at the very least the brain is reacting and processing at some capacity the auditory information that it’s receiving,” she said of the glimpse into brain activity that persists in the transition between life and death.

“But I can’t tell anybody if their loved one understands them or knows who’s talking to them,” Blundon said, adding further research is needed to delve deeper into the mysteries of end-of-life hearing.

Previous research into hearing of unresponsive patients has been done in Europe on patients with traumatic brain injury and showed they also respond to sound, said Blundon, who hopes to continue her work at the University of Miami, where she may also look into the effects of music on those near death.

Dr. Romayne Gallagher, who recently retired as a palliative care physician at St. John Hospice where part of the study was completed, said she noticed during 30 years in her job that patients would react positively when they heard the voice of a loved one, even on the phone.

Families can take some measure of comfort from spending time talking to their loved ones, even when they don’t respond, she added.

“A lot of people are scared of this time and they don’t quite know what to do and we often say to them, ‘Talk to them, play their favourite music.’ Things like that.”

Jordan said she spent thousands of hours “chit-chatting” with her husband and playing his favourite music from the 1970s and ’80s on a boom box she brought to hospital.

“It just seemed natural, speaking to him,” she said, adding he seemed to respond most favourably every time she mentioned their son Mark, who was 16 months old when the crash happened.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Science

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rio Tinto responds to U.S. aluminum import tariffs

The tariffs were imposed by President Donald Trump Aug. 6

Brucejack mine fatality identified

Patrick Critch was from Newfoundland

Pretivm Resources reports fatality at Brucejack mine

The isolated incident occurred last Friday, and the employee passed away on Sunday in hospital

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Smoke seen over northern B.C. from wildfires in the U.S. and Siberia

Smoke was seen over Vanderhoof, Fort St. James and Prince George on Friday, July 31.

53 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths cap off week of high infection rates in B.C.

Roughly 1,500 people are self-isolating because they either have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

New mothers with COVID-19 should still breastfeed: Canada’s top doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam made the recommendation during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Collapse of Nunavut ice shelf ‘like losing a good friend:’ glaciologist

The ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent

B.C. wildfire crews have battled 111 blazes in the last seven days

Twenty-nine fires remain active, as of Friday (Aug 7)

‘We don’t make the rules’: Okanagan pub owner says staff harassed over pandemic precautions

‘If you have six people plus a baby, guess what? That’s seven’ - West Kelowna Kelly O’Bryan’s owner

T-Rex earns big bids at B.C. dino auction

Over 500 dino-themed lots sold to buyers from across North America

Most Read