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Locked-In Patients Who Are Too Disabled To Talk Can Now Communicate With Their Minds

Update Date: Feb 01, 2017 08:10 AM EST
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Patients suffering from completely locked-in syndrome (CLIS) were able to communicate with their minds after not being able to speak for years. The syndrome is brought about by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, leaving people totally paralyzed but still aware of their surrounding and able to think.

Doctors used a brain-reading device that can hold simple conversations with locked-in patients. This ground-breaking technology can detect patterns in the brain. Questions answerable by yes or no will help patients communicate.

Four patients were trained to use the system for more than a year after they have been diagnosed with locked-in syndrome. Three women and one man, aging 24 to 76, was included in the research which was led by Niels Birbaumer, a neuroscientist at University of Tübingen.

Birbaumer said that this is the first sign that locked-in syndrome may be totally eliminated. Doctors are now able to ask critical questions, while patients can establish communication once again with their families. The completion of the device after 30 years was one of the most satisfying moments of his life according to Birbaumer.

Those locked-in patients are fed through tubes and are connected to a ventilator at home. They are trained to think "yes" or "no" in response to a simple question. A cap that can spot variations in blood flow in different regions of the brain is worn by the patients.

When the locked-in patients scored at least 70 percent of the training questions, doctors started to ask more personal questions. All four patients in the research indicated that they are happy with life.

Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario, conducted a similar research for patients in vegetative state. The results were surprising showing that most locked-in patients are reasonably satisfied with their quality of life.

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