ReportsNEUROTECHNOLOGY

Noninvasive brain-computer interface enables communication after brainstem stroke

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Science Translational Medicine  08 Oct 2014:
Vol. 6, Issue 257, pp. 257re7
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007801

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Communicating with a Locked-in Patient

“Locked-in” syndrome describes a patient who is awake, or conscious, but can’t communicate verbally; some patients even lack the ability to convey thoughts and emotions by movement, whether it be with a hand, a headshake, or the eyes. To help these patients communicate, Sellers et al. used a brain-computer interface (BCI) that relies on spelling. Over the course of a year, the authors tested their BCI in one patient locked-in as a result of a brainstem stroke. The patient would focus on a computer screen with either different choices—Yes, No, Pass, and End—or letters to spell out a desired word. When his desired choice would flash, a concurrent deflection in the brain signal, called the P300 event-related potential, would occur and be recognized by the computer. After calibration of the BCI, the patient was able to freely spell words and relay messages to his wife, such as “Thank you for all of your hard work.” Although this message took 45 min to complete, without such technology communication between the patient and his family would be nearly impossible. The case study by Sellers et al. was in one locked-in patient, and future studies will be needed to determine accuracy and broad applicability.

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