Improving Communication: Brain Computer Interface Project
Progress in medical science now enables people with severe paralysis, including those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and brainstem stroke, to live for many years. Many of these individuals have great difficulty communicating, some entering into a “locked-in” state. The capacity for simple communication can greatly improve their quality of life.
Under the direction of Jonathan R. Wolpaw, M.D., The Wadsworth Center has developed a brain-computer interface (BCI) device which may provide communication functions to individuals who have lost muscle control, including the ability to breathe, talk or even move their eyes. The device records brain waves from the scalp and then decodes them, allowing the user to communicate by making selections on a computer screen. The Wadsworth BCI system is a completely new technology and a major advance over conventional augmentative communication methods. The team at Wadsworth has refined the technology over the past 20 years.
Wadsworth researchers are now working with the staff of Helen Hayes Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitation Technology to transition the BCI from the laboratory to the home environment. In a pilot study, researchers identify individuals who may benefit from the BCI and educate them and their caregivers on its use. The BCI devices are installed in the user’s home. Through an Internet link and periodic visits, researchers monitor and assess the extent and success of BCI usage and its impact on quality of life.