Most of us remember our nursing instructor advising us to talk to our unconscious patients, telling us hearing was the "last sense to go." While most of us heeded this advice, it was difficult to do since there was no response from the patient. We never knew if what we were saying made a difference or not.

From current research we now know our instructor was right and wrong. There are definitely times unconscious patients hear, but cannot communicate this awareness. But hearing is not the last sense to go; consciousness is.

From interviews conducted with over 100 patients who had been unconscious, five distinct states have been described by these patients:

Most patients reported having one of these states predominate the experience, but many reported experiencing more than one state. The following table outlines the five states and the percentage of patients who experienced them.



Inner Awareness


Perceived unconsciousness

  • Auditory
  • Tactile
  • Motion


  Distorted consciousness

  • Perception distortion
  • Memory distortion
  • Personality distortion


 Exceptional/paranormal experiences

  • Out-of- body experiences
  • Near-death experiences
  • Near-death visits
  • Encounters with the Grim Reaper


(Lawrence, 1995)

Instant Feedback:

How many states of unconscious have been described?
a. 1
b. 2
c. 5