After years of being “locked in,” patients communicate, say they’re happy

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2017-02-02

Enlarge / A female study participant responds to a question. (credit: Wyss Center )

Patients with complete “locked-in syndrome”—conscious, but fully paralyzed and unable to move even their eyes—may soon be able to mentally break out.

Using a new, noninvasive device that measures brain waves and blood flow, four locked-in patients were able to communicate by answering yes or no questions, neuroscientists report this week in PLOS Biology. The four patients, all completely paralyzed by Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), answered geography questions, correctly identified family members’ names, and even said they were happy and glad to be alive.

The study’s lead author, neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer, of the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, told MIT Technology Review that “the relief was enormous” for the families after hearing the positive responses.

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