Locked-in syndrome is so powerful that it steals away the capacity to move and talk. Usually, such patients are able to communicate by moving their eyes and blinking. However, some of them suffer from complete locked-in illness which takes even this restrictive ability away from them. This condition appears when the lower brain or the brain stem of a person is affected by a brain stroke, poisoning, brain injury, lesions or multiple sclerosis. As the upper brain remains intact, patients are able to maintain their cognitive faculties even though they are trapped in their own bodies. A new study can restore the capacity to communicate to the victims of such a condition.
A new study was published on Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology. According to this paper, an international group of researchers managed to communicate with four patients with the complete locked-in syndrome. This event was possible thanks to a non-invasive system with a brain-computer interface. The patients were asked simple questions to which they could answer affirmatively or negatively. The technological equipment was able to intercept their thoughts and transpose them into spoken language.
The computer uses the latest technology based on functional near-infrared spectroscopy. This tool can track down the brain activity minutely by recording the oxygenation and blood flow at the level of the brain. Thanks to an EEG cap, scientists were able to communicate with people with locked-in syndrome in real time.
The study managed to involve four people. There was a 68-year-old woman, a 76-year-old woman, a 24-year-old woman, and a 61-year-old man. For some weeks, the group of researchers asked them questions on a daily basis. The questions were simple, and scientists explained the participants to think only of true or false and yes or no answers. Afterward, scientists studied their brain activity to see what changes in the computer system signaled their correct answer.
Niels Birbaumer, the lead author of the study, was surprised by some of the findings. He was delighted to find out that the participants in the study considered that they are happy persons. Moreover, their cognitive capacity was found to be in a good state. All of them knew the answers to 70% of questions they were asked that were general knowledge. In the future, Birbaumer is optimistic about the utility of such equipment. It will surely increase the lifestyle quality of many patients.
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