With the assistance of an implant, a hope to locked-in patients is now at hand. In fact, this implant allows patients to control a keyboard with their mind. In other words, a patient who is completely locked in can type out words and simple sentences to his family including what he needs or want to eat.
Locked-in syndrome (LIS) has another term which is pseudocoma. LIS is a condition in which a patient is conscious, but they are unable to move or speak because almost all of their voluntary muscles are paralyzed. However, patients can still move their eyes or blink. On the other hand, the term "completely locked-in state" (CLIS) is a form of LIS that paralyzes the eyes. The cause behind LIS is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which is a progressive neurodegenerative disease.
In 2017, a team of doctors from the University of Tübingen in Germany used fNIRS to detect patterns in the brain activity of three patients with CLIS. fNIRS stands for functional near-infrared spectroscopy that enables patients to answer with a YES or NO. Meanwhile, this method has a drawback of being slow and 30% inaccurate in giving answers.
Therefore, a new method with a totally different concept was proposed to a 36 years old patient volunteer who could still control his eyes movement. Their proposal involved surgically implanting two arrays of microelectrodes, each of 3.2mm square, into the patient's brain part involved with planning and controlling voluntary movements. Researchers taught the man how to manipulate sound waves frequency by using a computer program that generates brain activity. This same method was then applied to controlling a spelling program, where he could select letters one by one to form words and phrases at the rate of about one character per minute.
Among the things the patient asked for are having a goulash soup, drinking beer, and watching a Disney movie with his 4 years old son. Although slow, the communication shows a great hope to locked-in patients and their families. Being able to say just few phrases is better than saying nothing. This patient was able to express his wish to his family "My biggest wish is a new bed and that tomorrow I come with you for barbecue.”
-Source: The guardian