Most of us remember our nursing instructor advising us to talk to our unconscious patients, telling us that 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 partially right. There are definitely times when the unconscious patient continues to process auditory stimulation. However, the unconscious state is significantly more complex, as less than a third of "unconscious" patients report complete unconsciousess or non-awareness.

Interviews conducted with over 100 patients revealed five distinct experiential states of unconsciousness:





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


Most patients reported that 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.

(Lawrence, 1995)

Instant Feedback:

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