Does life flash before your eyes? First-ever scan of a dying human brain suggests it’s possible

A team of scientists unintentionally recorded the brainwaves of an 87-year-old man as he died, offering the first peek at what happens in the brain during the last stages of life.


Sylvia Lee

After an elderly patient died suddenly during a routine test, scientists accidentally captured data on his brain activity at the very end of his life. The scans, which had never captured the death of a dying human before, showed that the man experienced the types of brain waves related to memory recall, meditation, and dreaming. Just before and even approximately 15 seconds after his heart had stopped beating, it was heavily suggested that people may actually see their life “flash before their eyes” once they die.

Researchers discovered this theory in 2016 while studying the brain activity of  an 87-year-old man with epilepsy. The team performed an electroencephalogram (EEG), a test that detects electrical activity in your brain to learn more about what was happening during his seizures. During the neurological recording, however, he suffered a fatal heart attack, creating the first-ever recording of a dying brain.

The EEG confirmed that 15 seconds before the patient’s heart stopped, there was an abnormal change in his brain wave activity. High-frequency brain waves known as gamma oscillations were experienced, in addition to a number of slower oscillations consisting of theta delta, alpha, and beta. These patterns are related to concentration, dreaming, meditation, memory retrieval, and flashbacks. But, it was the gamma waves that edged closer to the man replaying memories from throughout his life in his brain, otherwise known as life recall.

Through generating oscillations involved in memory retrieval, the brain may be playing a last recall of important life events just before we die, similar to the ones reported in near-death experiences

— Dr. Ajmal Zemmar, an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery

A similar research experiment in mice has also demonstrated that the rodents experience similar levels of gamma oscillations upon death, confirming that the ability to recall life can be something that is universally shared in the brains of many dying mammals, although they claim that there is little supporting evidence.

The actual phenomenon of replaying past memories when you die has been reported by several people who’ve had near-death experiences. However, this is only the first scientific evidence that the “flash” that they have is real. Although, since this is just a case study, it’s impossible to make any assumptions about how often this happens or how the experience might be.


Magazine, Smithsonian. “Brain Scans of Dying Man Suggest Life Flashes before Our Eyes upon Death.”, Smithsonian Institution, 28 Feb. 2022,

Baker, Harry. “First-Ever Scan of a Dying Human Brain Reveals Life May Actually ‘Flash before Your Eyes’.” LiveScience, Purch, 26 Feb. 2022,