Locked-In ALS Patients Can Communicate Through Brain Scans

In a new study, brain imaging is being used to enable severely locked-in patients to answer yes and no questions. These patients are conscious and aware but are unable to communicate because of paralysis. Scientists were impressed with the study findings which involves advanced brain-computer technology.

According to Marie-Christine Nizzi, a psychology instructor with the Mind, Brain and Behavior Initiative at Harvard University, the study is a frontier in terms of communication with patients who have locked-in syndrome. Research in the study have found that most of the time measuring oxygen in specific areas of the brain allowed them to identify the sentences the patients knew were true versus those who are false.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS is a motor neuron disease that destroys the nerves responsible for movement. The patient loses his ability to move his body while having an intact mind hence being locked inside his own body. In some cases, patients are able to communicate by blinking or moving the eyes. In the most extreme state, the person cannot control any movement.

In the study, researchers used advanced imaging technique and electroencephalography to measure electrical activity in the brain. The participants were then asked yes and no questions. The patients were trained on how to focus their minds on the answers as reported by UPI.

Professor Niels Birbaumer, lead investigator of the study from the Wyss Centre for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva said that the team was initially surprised at the positive responses when patients were asked about their quality of life. All four of the test patients had accepted artificial ventilation to sustain their life.

According to Birbaumer, what the researchers were able to communicate with the patients and that the patients found their quality of life was acceptable as long as they received satisfactory care at home. Birbaumer went on to say that it is for this reason that the technique should be made widely available as being able to communicate can have a huge impact on the day to day life locked-in-syndrome patients as reported by ITV.

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