Hearing at the end of life

Findings of a recent study

Charlotte Gurney

  • Talking Points

So often recently bereaved families have hoped their “I love you so much” was heard. Nurses have believed for a long time that even when almost all signs of life have left, a dying patient might well be able to hear your parting words.

A recent study provides evidence to support this. Electrical activity in the brain in response to differing sounds was measured in young, healthy controls and in fully conscious consenting patients when they were admitted to a hospice. Those same patients re-tested near death, when unresponsive to sound and touch, showed some similar brain activity.

The doctors who carried out this complex audiological study believe that it supports the advice that loved ones should keep talking to a dying relative as long as possible and that unconscious dying patients might also recognise their favourite piece of music. “Anything that could provide some comfort at the end of life we should advise people to do,”

So, says one of our authors, Martin Down: “Keep talking. Keep praying out loud. Keep reading the Scriptures to the moribund and dying.”

Read more about this in The Times report on 11.7.2020


Here is a link to the original paper reporting the findings.


Postscript: On a lighter note – this letter appeared in The Times:


Sir, It is fascinating to know that loved ones can still hear while close to death ("Loved ones can hear your last goodbye as they slip away", July 11). However, if my husband does not listen in this life, I think he is highly unlikely to as he enters the next.

Charlotte Gurney
Dilham, Norfolk