Mayo Clinic study finds coma grossly misrepresented in the movies

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- A new study by a Mayo Clinic neurologist finds that, overall, motion pictures inaccurately represent the comatose state. Findings will appear in the May issue of the journal Neurology.

"What we found was there were only two movies that were accurate," says Eelco Wijdicks, M.D. "Generally, there is a pattern of inaccuracy. It's an enormous caricature. Patients in a coma and their neurologists are portrayed inaccurately, and so are almost all awakenings after coma. This was not only true for Hollywood motion pictures, but also for international films."

Dr. Wijdicks, a Mayo Clinic neurologist, and his son, Coen Wijdicks, currently a graduate student at Rush University, reviewed 30 movies released from 1970 to 2004 with actors depicting prolonged coma. They evaluated accuracy based on appearance of the comatose patient, complexity of care, accurate cause of coma, probability of awakening, and appropriate compassionate discussion between the physician and family members. The researchers then showed 22 scenes from 17 movies to a panel of neurointensitivists and neuroscience nurses who were asked to evaluate accuracy in the same categories. Finally, the researchers showed the same scenes to 72 nonmedical viewers for their assessment of accuracy.

Dr. Wijdicks commends two movies, "Reversal of Fortune" and "The Dreamlife of Angels" for portraying well the agony of waiting for a comatose patient to awaken and accurately depicting the patient and the complexity of care. However, the researchers say the other 28 movies they analyzed portrayed coma incorrectly. For example, inaccurate portrayals show miraculous awakenings -- often within seconds and as if from a terrible nightmare -- with no cognitive deficits or other long-lasting effects from the coma.

Dr. Wijdicks explains that the actors portraying comatose patients in the movies that depicted coma poorly do not have feeding tubes, do not have contractures and are not tra

Contact: Lisa Lucier
Mayo Clinic

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