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.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that are responsible for movement. As it advances, patients lose the ability to breathe and even …