Home Academia & Research Scientists Unveil New Communication Device for ‘Locked-In’ Patients

Scientists Unveil New Communication Device for ‘Locked-In’ Patients

by Shelley D. Hutchins
woman wearing Communication device on her head

An experimental “mind-reading” machine could aid communication for people with neurological conditions who have no control over any body movement.

The device consists of a spectroscope attached to a cap, which reads neural responses using near-infrared light to illuminate blood flow inside the brain. The team of scientists that created the device is led by Niels Birbaumer, professor of behavioral neurobiology and medical psychology at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

According to an article from NBC News, the team successfully read the thoughts of four people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Using a baseline of known information from the patients’ families, Birbaumer’s device interpreted answers to several “yes” or “no” questions. Each question was asked 10 times to confirm the readings.

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Technology that harnesses brain signals releases “locked-in” patients—too paralyzed to speak— from their prison of silence.

Two cases of locked-in syndrome progressed from communication based on minimal eye movement to successful use of computerized communication devices.

Harnessing Brain Signals for Communication

“We found that all four patients we tested were able to answer the personal questions we asked them, using their thoughts alone,” Birbaum said in the article. “If we can replicate this study in more patients, I believe we could restore useful communication in completely locked-in states for people with motor neuron diseases.”


Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org 

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1 comment

Susan Belsky February 14, 2017 - 6:48 pm

Most interesting article about ALS that I have heard in decades, although I have worked with just a few patients. Wonder how this will be able to be used in the future and when?

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