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)

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

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Joyce Cooper (left) said she had to set an example for Tsilhqot’in communities by sharing her COVID-19 positive results. (Photo submitted)
Tsideldel off-reserve member documents experience of COVID-19

We should all be supporting one another and not judging each other, says Joyce Cooper

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Nuxalk Public Health Nurse Sophie Mack is all smiles as she vaccinates her dad, hereditary chief James Mack Sr., with his first dose of the Moderna vaccine (photo submitted)
Cases drop as vaccine continues to roll out in Bella Coola

Seniors at Mountain View Lodge, Nuxalk elders, hospital staff and long-term care residents have all started to receive their vaccines so far

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
5 big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer’s uniform as she makes a phone call. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver man calls 911 to report his own stabbing, leading to arrest: police

Officers located the suspect a few blocks away. He was holding a bloody knife.

Vernon has agreed to a goose cull to control the over-populated invasive species making a muck of area parks and beaches. (Morning Star file photo)
Okanagan city pulls the trigger on goose cull

City asking neighbours to also help control over-population of geese

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
2 years after his riderless horse was found, police believe Merritt cowboy was killed

Two years after he went missing, Ben Tyner’s family makes video plea for information

A ground worker wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 unloads lobsters from a WestJet Airlines flight at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Trudeau teases stricter travel measures; Canadians flying to U.S. now need COVID test

Prime minister says measures need to not hurt imports and essential trade

Most Read