Research ArticleSpinal Cord Injury

The Tongue Enables Computer and Wheelchair Control for People with Spinal Cord Injury

Science Translational Medicine  27 Nov 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 213, pp. 213ra166
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006296

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Tying the Tongue to Motor Control

Voluntary tongue motion may help people with limited upper limb mobility, such as those with high-level spinal cord injury, to access computers and to drive wheelchairs. The Tongue Drive System (TDS) is a wireless and wearable assistive technology that allows individuals with severe motor impairments to access their environments using voluntary tongue motion. Kim et al. report on a new study of TDS efficacy in patients with severe spinal cord injury. Two groups of able-bodied participants and a group of patients with spinal cord injury received a magnetic tongue barbell. Participants used the TDS during five to six testing sessions. Comparisons between the TDS and the keypad for the able-bodied groups and a sip-and-puff device (a traditional assistive technology) for those with tetraplegia were based on widely accepted measures of speed and accuracy. A combination of TDS flexibility and inherent human tongue abilities enabled individuals with severe motor impairments to access computers and drive wheelchairs more quickly but just as accurately as when using traditional assistive technologies.