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

Kelowna West MLA elect Ben Stewart addresses a small gathering of campaign supporters at the West Kelowna Yacht Club, shortly after hearing of his riding victory on Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo - Phil McLachlan)
Despite NDP majority, Kelowna remains Liberal stronghold

As several ridings in the Lower Mainland fell to the BC NDP, the BC Liberals retained three Kelowna seats

McCleave is eight years old.
AlleyCats pet of the week

Meet McCleave and Nyx

Renee Merrifield speaking to media on her front doorstep after winning the Kelowna-Mission riding for the BC Liberal Party. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Renee Merrifield retains BC Liberal Party’s seat in Kelowna-Mission

Renee Merrifield will take over former BC Liberal Steve Thomson’s seat, which he held for the past 11 years

(Norm Letnick)
BC Liberals’ Norm Letnick keeps Kelowna-Lake Country seat

Letnick acknowledged there could still be changes when mail-in ballots are counted

Kelowna West MLA elect Ben Stewart addresses a small gathering of campaign supporters at the West Kelowna Yacht Club, shortly after hearing of his riding victory. (Photo - Phil McLachlan)
BC Liberal Ben Stewart re-elected as MLA in Kelowna West

Stewart said he did not expect the NDP government to win a majority

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

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

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read