There are several devastating diseases that make it very difficult or even even impossible for patients to continue communicating with their loved ones–however a new device has made it possible for those “locked in” to communicate with their friends and family.

The new device monitors patients’ brain blood oxygen levels, which can help scientists effectively “read their minds” using technology called near-infrared spectroscopy.

It goes over the person’s head like a swimming cap, and its sensors can detect changes within the brain’s blood levels.

Those who took part in the experiment to test out the device suffer from what is known as “locked-in” syndrome, meaning they have lost all ability to move except for blinking one or both eyelids.

When a person is unable to even move their eyelids, the syndrome is known as “complete locked-in” syndrome.

This groundbreaking device was created by Niels Birbaumer, now at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva.

Four people with “locked-in syndrome” were tested to see how well the device works by asking them yes or no questions to which the answers would be obvious, such as, “Is the capital of Germany Paris?”

They found that the device was accurate 70% of the time, which although is not perfect, is still greater than a guessing game.

Birbaumer stated of the experiments:

“We were initially surprised at the positive responses when we questioned the four completely locked-in patients about their quality of life.

All four had accepted artificial ventilation in order to sustain their life, when breathing became impossible; thus, in a sense, they had already chosen to live. What we observed was that as long as they received satisfactory care at home, they found their quality of life acceptable.

It is for this reason, if we could make this technique widely clinically available, it could have a huge impact on the day-to-day life of people with completely locked-in syndrome.”

Although at the moment, the device can only really help patients answer “yes” or “no” questions, the team said that many of the family members of those participating were elated at being able to communicate with family members after many years of silence.

The details of the experiment were published PLOS Biology. 


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