New Tech May Allow Coma Patients to Communicate

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On October 25, 2012 Dr. Damian Cruse will be the guest speaker for an event at the New Beginnings Brain Injury Association of Chatham-Kent in Ontario, Canada.

The worker for the Centre of Brain and Mind at London’s Western University hopes to unveil new technology that allows comatose brain injury patients to communicate in a basic way.

Cruse spoke with The Chatham Daily News and said improvements are being made in diagnosing severe brain injuries. “Up until about five years ago, diagnosis with […] severe brain injuries was actually very difficult, because it relies on observing their behavior.”

“What we’ve been able to do in the last few years is develop brain imaging methods,” involving MRI and EEGs, which Cruse says are leading to different ways to look at the brain of a patient and rely less on “external behavior.”

According to Cruse, brain imaging is also being used in the creation of a communication tool for those trapped in a coma, hoping to answer the most common question of comatose patients’ family members; “Can they hear me?”

The technology is similar to what highly noted theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking uses to communicate.

Stephen Hawking

Hawking has motor neurone disease, and has to communicate by blinking his eyes “at the right time.” The technology Hawking uses allows him to speak almost perfectly via a machine, but Cruse’s technology is only able to allow yes or no questions.

“What we aim to do is take particular thoughts, basically, identify particular thought patterns in brain imaging to control a very similar device  [to Hawking’s.]”

One of the biggest challenges is trying to turn the extremely expensive material into an affodable machine, which is portable.

Cruse noted that when you ask people to think about different activities, they use different parts of their brain. For example, imagining playing tennis or walking around the house activate different areas of the brain.

“When you ask people to imagine they are doing these two tasks, you find two completely different parts of your brain are active in the two different tasks,” said Cruse.

Basically, rather than asking someone to raise their left hand for yes, and their right hand for no, Cruse has patients think about different activities to signify different answers. “We’re asking them to think about things, rather than to actually produce a movement.”

 

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