"I want to live". New device lets completely paralyzed patients communicate yes or no for the first time

 Wyss Center www.wysscenter.ch

Wyss Center www.wysscenter.ch

I suffered from sleep paralysis for a while back in middle school. If you've never heard of it, sleep paralysis is basically a nightmare come to life: your mind's awake, but your body's still paralyzed in a stage of sleep called REM, so you can't move. Oftentimes these episodes come with unpleasant hallucinations, like monsters sitting on your chest belaboring your breathing. 

It's terrifying. You can't fight, you can't speak, you can't even close your eyes or look away. But for sleep paralysis, the one consolation is I know I'll always wake up - that it'd eventually be over.

To an average person, complete paralysis sounds like a lifetime of nightmares. Often a result of progressive motor neuron diseases that slowly but steadily shut down muscle function, paralysis first takes away your voluntary movements, then your ability to breathe on your own. Soon there's absolutely no way to tell those around you that you're still conscious and alive. You're locked inside your own body, with no way to reach out.

The recent explosion of neuroprosthetics - devices that roughy "read" the brain and feeds those responses to a machine for interpretation - offers the first glimpse of technologies that may allow us to finally communicate with locked-in patients. In this week's article for Singularity Hub, I cover a brain-machine interface (BMI) that can reliably read "yes" or "no" answers from locked-in patients, by looking at local blood flow in certain areas of the brain (more blood flow generally means more activity).

When combined with EEG, a non-invasive technology that measures the brain's electrical activity, the BMI was able to tell whether the patients were alert and cooperative, and have them answer questions from their families for the first time in years. 

What was especially admirable to me is that when asked how their lives were, almost all patients replied that they were generally happy and choose to live.

Get the details of the study here.