Scientific breakthroughs proceed at an exponential and thankfully not a gradual pace. That's because the greater access we have to more complex technology, when used correctly allows us to do things even more and more amazing every day.
Up until recently, fully paralyzed individuals were unable to speak. They were trapped, inside their own bodies, completely unable to communicate with the outside world, left only with their own thoughts, unable to show any signs of comprehension or recognition to those around them.
Sadly, this results in many paralyzed individuals from falling to the side of the road so-to-speak as people wouldn't really want to spend time with someone who can only listen and not contribute to a conversation.
But these previously hopeless "locked-in" paralysis sufferers can now communicate with those around them thanks to a Brain Computer Interface.
BCI can be used by scientists to monitor brain patterns of patients in non-invasive ways. In the past, BCI chips needed to be inserted into patients brains in order to quantify simple "yes" or "no" responses. New machines detect blood flow to the brain for these same responses - no surgery or invasive procedures necessary.
Because BCI doesn't require a nervous or muscular response in order to gather data, victims of paralysis can use it to communicate using just their thoughts.
There are, of course, limitations to the technology and even then it's correct 70 percent of the time. Researchers found that closed questions worked best and by instructing paralysis victims to focus their thoughts in a certain direction, they're able to get correct responses to closed questions, such as, "Is your name so and so."
The most amazing aspect of BCI is that paralysis victims overwhelmingly responded with a desire to live, despite their "locked-in" state.
"We were initially surprised at the positive responses when we questioned the four completely locked-in participants about their quality of life. All four had accepted artificial ventilation in order to sustain their life when breathing became impossible so, in a sense, they had already chosen to live. What we observed was, as long as they received satisfactory care at home, they found their quality of life acceptable. It is for this reason, if we could make this technique widely clinically available, it would have a huge impact on the day-to-day life of people with complete locked-in syndrome," Niels Birbaumer, lead author of the paper said.
By opening up this primitive form of communication, quality of life has improved for these people affected with total paralysis. The paper's authors hope that this is the beginning of opening up even more complex lines of communication with the fully paralyzed. This breakthrough is already amazing and could be the start of something more incredible.
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