Researchers in Canada have been able to communicate with a man who has been trapped in a vegetative state for more than a decade after a devastating car accident damaged his brain.

Known only as "patient 3" in a study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association for neurology, researchers at the University of Western Ontario were able to "talk" with a man using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to trace his brain activity.

The man was one of three subjects in a study that explored the mental life of vegetative patients.

"What we're trying to do here is to give patients more options in the way they can 'talk' to us," Dr. Lorina Naci, the lead researcher in the study, told CTV News on Monday.

In the study, patients – two who were diagnosed as minimally conscious and one as being in a vegetative state – were asked a series of yes-or-no questions, such as, "Are you in a hospital?" and "Is your name Mike?"

Patients then focused on the word "yes" or "no" while inside the fMRI machine.

The results confirmed what many families of vegetative patients have long believed: that their loved ones can still hear them despite being essentially non-responsive on the exterior.

"By using the power of his attention, the patient was able to select the correct answer to several questions," Naci said.

The new brain-based form of communication opens up new avenues of research on clinical vegetative states.

In several recent neuroimaging studies, researchers were able to demonstrate that, despite the absence of external signs of consciousness, a small but significant proportion of patients in a vegetative state can respond to commands willfully.

With files from CTV London