Patients with disorders of consciousness, in particular coma or a minimally conscious state, require ongoing access to interdisciplinary and specialized care. As such, not all centres may be able to provide this level of specialized care, even with adequate resources to monitor and rehabilitate these challenging patients. There must be frequent reassessment using standardized assessments. The degree of stimulation and mobilization needs to be monitored as the optimal balance of stimulation and rest is not known.
Abbasi et al. (2009) conducted a well-designed randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the effects of sensory stimulation through structured family visits on consciousness as assessed by the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). Families received training on coma; how to provide appropriate stimulation and how to remain calm. Patients receiving family visits showed significantly greater GCS scores on each day of the intervention and attained a mean GCS 2 points higher than the control group. Although no long-term outcomes were evaluated and no follow-up was reported, these results suggest that family-provided stimulation may be an effective intervention for stimulating recovery from a coma. In the only other RCT identified on this topic, Johnson et al. (1993) randomly assigned patients to a group that received multimodal sensory stimulation or to a group that received no purposeful sensory stimulation at all. The primary outcome in this study was changes in the GCS post treatment. However, Johnson et al. (1993) did not report any data on this measure and only presented data on biochemical and physiological parameters of questionable clinical importance. The strength of the study findings have been questioned due to the “poor” methodological score (PEDro = 3); conclusions, were not based upon the study’s findings. Overall, the studies identified in this area generally show greater improvements in a variety of measures following multimodal sensory stimulation. Some studies aimed to investigate if the duration of coma could be reduced using sensory stimulation as their only objective. For example, Mitchell et al. (1990) reported that patients subjected to multimodal sensory stimulation experienced significant reductions in the duration of coma compared with controls. Again, duration of coma was their only outcome and in the absence of other measures of clinical importance, such as functional indicators (i.e. Glasgow Outcome Scale or Disability Rating Scale), such results fall short in demonstrating any clinical functional benefit of sensory stimulation. A 2002 Cochrane review showed similar results stating that there was insufficient evidence to refute or support the use of multisensory programs for patients in coma or vegetative state (Lombardi et al., 2002).
Abbasi, M., Mohammadi, E., & Sheaykh Rezayi, A. (2009). Effect of a regular family visiting program as an affective, auditory, and tactile stimulation on the consciousness level of comatose patients with a head injury. Jpn J Nurs Sci, 6(1), 21-26.
Johnson, D. A., Roethig-Johnston, K., & Richards, D. (1993). Biochemical and physiological parameters of recovery in acute severe head injury: responses to multisensory stimulation. Brain Inj, 7(6), 491-499.
Lombardi, F., Taricco, M., De Tanti, A., Telaro, E., & Liberati, A. (2002). Sensory stimulation of brain-injured individuals in coma or vegetative state: results of a Cochrane systematic review. Clin Rehabil, 16(5), 464-472.
Mitchell, S., Bradley, V. A., Welch, J. L., & Britton, P. G. (1990). Coma arousal procedure: a therapeutic intervention in the treatment of head injury. Brain Inj, 4(3), 273-279.