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

An original piece of artwork by Rosie Laponder, was stolen along with various art supplies from Julie Ann’s Art and Custom Framing in Chilliwack on Nov. 28, 2020. (Submitted image)
Thieves steal original artwork, art supplies from Chilliwack store

‘It kind of makes you sick to your stomach,’ says store manager

The paraglider pilot, while attempting to free himself, dropped 30 feet and sustained serious injuries as Kent-Harrison Search and Rescue members worked quickly to extract him from the trees. They were able to get him to a waiting ambulance at the end of a nearby forest service road. (Contributed Photo/Dave Harder)
Lower Mainland Search and Rescue saves paraglider in treetop rescue

Pilot tried to rescue themselves but sustained serious injuries in a 30-foot fall

Still from a video surveillance camera of a man alleged to have stolen from several people at knife-point in Chilliwack (Rosedale) early on Nov. 28, 2020. (Facebook)
Violent crime spree involving knife ends in arrest in Chilliwack

RCMP looking for footage that captures violent crime spree in Chilliwack

A screenshot of a poster detailing a Dec. 4 protest against Hope council’s decision to reject BC Housing’s rezoning application for 650 Old Hope Princeton Way. (Submitted photo)
Protest planned following Hope council’s veto on supportive housing

Council voted 4 opposed, 1 in support, of BC Housing’s plans to rezone 650 Old Hope Princeton Way

Hope Secondary School. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Update: Fourth COVID-19 exposure at Hope Secondary School confirmed

Hope high school the only school in Fraser Cascade to experience multiple exposures

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Fatty Legs co-author responds to Abbotsford class assignment on residential schools

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. (Black Press Media files)
Judge hears Langley development case that could end in mayor, councillors booted out of council

The conflict of interest case was launched by local voters a year ago

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Harbour seals rest on log booms at Flavelle Mill in Port Hardy. With recent announcements the mill will be getting rid of the log booms, Dr. David Rosen sees an opportunity to study how the disappearance of this highly-frequented refuge for the seals will alter their behaviour in Burrard Inlet. (Photo supplied by David Rosen)
What the heck is going on with marine mamals in Vancouver waterways?

UBC researcher asks why they’re returning, and what role we’re playing

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009. (RCMP photo)
Human remains found off U.S. coast in 2009 identified as Penticton man

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009

Former Pitt Meadows mayor John Becker at his former law office. (News files)
Former Pitt Meadows mayor suspended from practising law for 14 months

Statement from John Becker says anxiety and depression played role

Most Read