What happens to us after death

The last impressions before death: what happens when we die?

The circulation breaks down, breathing stops, the heart stops beating - a life comes to an end. The body tries to supply the brain with oxygen to the last. What goes through our heads in these final moments cannot be said with certainty.

The question of what happens after death has always preoccupied mankind. A number of people who were already clinically dead but could be resuscitated have described the impressions they had at this critical moment. It is noticeable that these near-death experiences are very similar. Accordingly, many of the patients felt light and pain-free or even euphoric, some even had the feeling of having left their body.

Others report that they went through a tunnel with a bright light at the end. Some saw scenes from their lives rush past like in a movie.

What happens when a person dies

Scientists at New York University Langone School of Medicine have researched what happens after death has occurred and whether consciousness continues to work after death. For over a decade, they studied patients from Europe and the United States who had died of sudden cardiac arrest. In contrast to a heart attack, the heart stops beating immediately.

Dr. Sam Parnia, the head of the study, explained in the American science magazine "LiveScience" that the process in which all reflexes die, such as the gag reflex or the pupillary reflex, can last for hours after the heart has stopped beating, just as brain cells gradually die off.

That means: Consciousness is still working when we are actually already dead. The body is in a sense dead to the mind. "If there have been unsuccessful rescue measures, the tiny bit of blood that has reached the brain can slow down cell death," says Parnia.

Dying is a process

Dying is therefore not an abrupt end, but a process in which the body goes through different phases, report neurobiologists and brain researchers. When the heart has stopped beating, the blood supply to the organs collapses. This means that the body's cells no longer receive any oxygen or nutrients and sugar molecules. The organs begin to die off one by one.

The brain plays a very special role in this process: our thinking apparatus needs - to put it simply - large amounts of oxygen and sugar molecules in order to be able to work properly. Its metabolic activity per volume is around ten times higher than that of the rest of the body and when the brain is very active, the need for oxygen and sugar increases even further.

The cerebral cortex as the seat of consciousness requires the largest amount of energy. When the heart no longer pumps blood through the body and the supply to the brain breaks down, the cerebral cortex is affected first. This can lead to changes in consciousness, hallucinations or sensory failures and ultimately to unconsciousness.

Undersupply causes hallucinations

The consequences for the individual brain areas on the cerebral cortex are serious. The parietal lobe is responsible for locating our body in space and for experiencing a close connection between the self and the body. If this region of the cerebrum is injured or disrupted, our self-perception begins to falter - for example, a feeling of floating or even an "out-of-body" impression can arise.

An undersupply of the lower and inner temporal lobe can also lead to unreal sensory impressions: The patient suddenly sees pictures, hears noises or even music, or feels euphoric.

Near-death experiences can be explained neurologically

Our memory storage is also located on the cerebral cortex. The hippocampus is responsible for storing and retrieving the impressions - and it is particularly sensitive to a lack of oxygen. A malfunction can lead to a huge number of memory images being released. This flood of images can then be perceived as a kind of "film of one's own life".

The lack of oxygen in the brain can also lead to a disinhibition in signal transmission. Sensory impressions can no longer be processed correctly. See, for example: The brain interprets the uncontrolled signals from the visual cells as a white spot, and since the cells concentrate towards the center of the field of vision after the eye movements fail, you see a white circle that becomes lighter and lighter towards the center. The perception of the tunnel in some near-death patients could be explained in this way.

The cerebral cortex dies quickly

Sam Parnia explains in LiveScience that patients believed to be dead and resuscitated were able to describe exactly what had happened around them. "They describe how doctors and nurses work. They describe full conversations and are clear about visual things that they otherwise would not have known about," he explains in the science magazine.

How you interpret the experiences of near-death patients is up to you. However, the neurobiological knowledge about the dysfunction of the brain when there is insufficient oxygen supply shows that the brain can play a trick on us in the last moments of our lives.

Then doctors declare a person dead

Ultimately, dying is an individual process, the time frame varies from person to person. But when the heart finally stops working, death comes fairly quickly. The brain's oxygen reserves are minimal. After just a few minutes, irreparable damage occurs and the cerebral cortex begins to die, according to brain researchers. Then consciousness dies. If the breathing and the unconscious reflexes then gradually fail, which must be checked in a final standardized examination, the doctors declare the people dead.

Important NOTE: The information is in no way a substitute for professional advice or treatment by trained and recognized doctors. The contents of t-online cannot and must not be used to independently make diagnoses or start treatments.

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