Don't Marry Mario: 'Locked-in' Patients Can Finally 'Talk'

They communicate by thinking yes or no
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 5, 2017 11:25 AM CST
'Locked-in' Patients Finally Able to Communicate
All four patients had advanced ALS.   (AP)

Four paralyzed patients unable to communicate for years were finally able to do so through a potentially groundbreaking brain-reading system. And it turns out that one of them really didn't want his daughter to marry her boyfriend. The patients all had advanced ALS and were unable to control even their eyes, reports the Guardian. In other words, they had "locked-in syndrome," meaning total motor paralysis in spite of normal cognitive and emotional processing. Researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany fitted the patients with caps through which they could observe changes in blood flow in different parts of the brain, they explain in the journal PLOS Biology. They first asked the patients to think yes or no in response to simple statements such as their spouse's name, and moved on to more personal questions when that was mastered.

“It’s the first sign that completely locked-in syndrome may be abolished forever, because with all of these patients, we can now ask them the most critical questions in life,” says researcher Niels Birbaumer. The patients, all of whom are on ventilators and being cared for at home, range in age from 24 to 76. The team did stumble on a couple surprises. For instance, all four patients suggested they were "happy" with their lives in spite of being locked-in. (Birmbaumer suggests this might be because of something akin to meditation.) And one patient, who is 61, answered "no" nine times out of 10 when his 26-year-old daughter asked if she should marry her boyfriend Mario. "But they got married," one of the researchers tells the BBC. "Nothing can come between love." (Researchers can't explain how Stephen Hawking has lived this long.)

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