Evolving news on the science, writing and thinking about Near Death Experiences (NDEs)

Why Do We See a Decline In Reports Of NDEs With Age?

Over the past month I have summarized the key findings from the 3 main prospective studies looking into NDEs that all reported their results in the early 2000s. Since then there have been no large trials of this kind reporting in major medical journals – the research has reached a point where using the methods of the time, no more results of genuine academic interest will be discovered. The Parnia pilot study, like all the others, had established that NDEs were relatively rare (about 10%) and that there would need to be a very large number of Cardiac Arrest (CA) survivors to produce a “proven” out of body experience (OBE), the ultimate scientific result. Dr. Parnia and his team of co-investigators set up the AWARE study in 2008, with the objective of recruiting just such a high number in the hope of discovering this “smoking gun”.

If the NDE is real, and the OBE is a real element of NDEs, then it is inevitable that one day the AWARE study will produce one or more proven OBEs, and that afterwards more studies will produce an increasing number of similar results. This is the baseline that I assume in the book Aware of Aware, because for me, someone who has always believed in the existence of the soul, and having encountered credible people who have told me about their NDEs (usually reluctantly), this result is not the most interesting that can come out of this area of research. It is a bit like when man first went into outer space, or reached a high enough altitude to notice the curvature of the earth, the observation that the earth was not flat was not a surprise. So it is with believers in NDEs, a proven OBE will only tell us what we already knew. However, for the large numbers who don’t believe that NDEs are real or that the soul exists, this piece of evidence is crucial, and in my view has the potential to be the most important scientific finding ever as it will end the materialistic view that modern man has developed of life and his own existence.

For me, one of the most interesting findings from NDE studies is the correlation between age at the time of CA and reporting an NDE. The most common and palatable explanation for this is that the ability to report declines with age due to loss of memory function. This seems like an acceptable hypothesis until you look into it in a bit more detail.

Firstly, it is just a hypothesis. None of the three studies performed prospective investigations to link memory function with reporting an NDE – (there were no differences in psychological factors between experiencers and non-experiencers). To link memory directly to reporting an NDE would require adding a comprehensive memory test, or questionnaire, to the interviews that were conducted.

Personally, I am not convinced about the lack of NDEs in older patients being memory related. The first reason for this is the huge difference between reports of NDEs in the young (especially pre-adolescent) and old, with younger patients having an incidence of more than 50%. Whilst memory function does decline with age, older people do still report NDEs, so it is not the fact that a younger brain has a unique ability to remember this kind of experience. Nor can age-related decline in function account for such a huge disparity. Unless a patient has Alzheimer’s, older people do still remember dreams and recent events, maybe not quite so well, but the differences of reported events would require a decline of function many orders of magnitude higher than is generally the case.

Another very interesting piece of data that comes out of the Van Lommel study is the fact that women are more likely to have an NDE than men. In the Dutch study the overall incidence of reported NDE is 12%, however with women it is 21% (p=0.011 – p values relate to statistical significance; in general a p value lower than 0.05 is considered statistically significant as there is less than a 1 in 20 chance that this outcome could have occurred randomly). The fact that women were on average 5 years older, is also directly relevant to this discussion (mean age for men 61 vs 66 for women).

To put this result into the context of the issue of memory being the driving factor behind age related differences in reporting of NDEs, for this to be true, a 61 year old man would have to be nearly twice as likely to have severe memory problems as a 66 year old woman. This doesn’t ring true, and there is nothing in the literature to support this. There was some recent data to suggest minor differences between sexes with regard to reported changes in memory (in the HUNT3 study, Holmen et al. reported that 1.2% of women and 1.6% of men, aged 30-89, reported severe memory problems, changing to 0.9 vs 1.5% age range 60-69), but this does not account for the differences in reported NDE. Incidentally this study also showed that there was little difference in reports of severe memory problems between younger and older patients, however there was an increase in reporting of some minor memory problems as age progressed, but this again would not account for the greater than 5-fold difference between reports of NDEs in young subjects vs old.

So what is going on? For me that is the biggest question of all. If physiological and psychological factors cannot account for age related reduction in reporting of NDEs then maybe there is some other “unscientific” factor. Given that we are entering uncharted territory with regard to science potentially proving the existence of the soul, it should not be surprising that conventional science cannot answer questions regarding the incidence of NDE occurrence.

In Aware of Aware I propose some potential answers as to why it is that we observe these differences in reporting of NDEs, including the potential for Soul Death. Such an idea might be extremely disturbing to some, but to those familiar with various religious texts, this is very familiar.

I have a favor to ask regular readers of this blog. For a short time (till the end of June) I will be making Aware of Aware available at the lowest price Amazon will allow. If you have the time, and want to help me, please could you buy a copy, read the book and then do one of two things:

  1. If you enjoy the book and feel it is relevant to the discussion, post a review on Amazon.
  2. If you don’t enjoy it, please refrain from posting a negative review at this stage, rather, please could you contact me through this site, using the “contact me” link in the header or complete the form below and let me know how I could improve it.

(to buy click on one of the links below to Aware of Aware or search on your local Amazon site in either the kindle or book section – NB: it’s not always on the first page of a search!):

Aware of Aware US Amazon Kindle ($0.99)

Aware of Aware US Amazon Hard Copy (should be $7.63 by end of June 2nd)

I will shortly be updating the book with some of the data that I have been posting here, as well as trying to improve the overall content in any other ways possible, so your suggestions or comments would be very timely.


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7 thoughts on “Why Do We See a Decline In Reports Of NDEs With Age?

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  4. I was happy to see AWARE publication and the blog. As to soul death and almost as a joke, buddhists insist that there is no soul, then there might be differences in NDE frequncy in christian and buddhist countries. 🙂


    • Interesting comment, but from analysis of frequency of NDE by belief type, there appears to be no difference in percentage of people who experience NDEs from different faiths. However, the study that I am referring to was predominantly conducted in the “West”, with a very small representation from non-christian or atheist backgrounds. From the reading I have so far conducted, I am not altogether convinced that what you believe absolutely determines whether your soul survives the trials of this existence. Also, my whole “soul death” theory is just a theory, although there is some precedence for it from religious belief.


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