A standard brain scanning technique is showing promise for helping doctors distinguish between patients in a vegetative state and those with hidden signs of consciousness.

A study released Thursday is the latest to investigate using technology to help meet the challenge of making that distinction, which now is generally based on a doctor’s bedside exam.

Patients in a vegetative state have open eyes and show periods of sleep and wakefulness, but they are unaware of themselves or others and unable to think, respond or do anything on purpose. Patients in a minimally conscious state show only intermittent and minimal signs of awareness of themselves or their environment.

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