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New research shows promising results for communication with patients in locked-in states Main Image

New research shows promising results for communication with patients in locked-in states

Thu 02 Feb 2017

New research has indicated that locked-in patients with a form of motor neurone disease may be able to communicate using a scientific method that highlights areas of activity in the brain called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

The study, published in PLOS Biology, was carried out on four patients in a locked-in state who were completely paralysed and unable to communicate prior to the study. fNIRS was used to measure the patients’ brain activity while asking them a series of general and personal questions that required a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The results showed that the responses received back to the machine were correct over 70% of the time. Furthermore, three patients were asked about their quality of life, and indicated that they had a positive attitude towards their life in general.

Similar attitudes to quality of life have been found in research among brain injury survivors in a locked-in state. Research published in The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation found that patients in a locked-in state following brain injury expressed a desire to live and that they had some measure of quality of life, even after 11 years of being locked-in. Early access to specialist rehabilitation, care and technology are reported to be crucial factors in improving quality of life for locked-in patients following brain injury.

What is functional near-infrared spectroscopy?

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a neuroimaging method used to measure changes in the blood levels of the brain. Using the near-infrared range of light, the portable equipment (which is strapped to the patient’s head) can detect key changes in the chemical makeup of the blood in the frontal part of the brain, from which brain activity can be detected and translated into responses. fNIRS has several advantages over other neuroimaging methods (PDF) such as fMRI and has been suggested as a useful tool for diagnosing brain injury.

To read more about the research, visit the journal PLOS Biology.

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