Complete locked-in syndrome is the stuff of nightmares.
Patients in this state remain fully conscious and cognitively sharp, but are unable to move or signal to the outside world that they’re mentally present. The consequences can be dire: when doctors mistake locked-in patients for comatose and decide to pull the plug, there’s nothing the patients can do to intervene.
Now, thanks to a new system developed by an international team of European researchers, Wendy and others like her may finally have a rudimentary link to the outside world. The system, a portable brain-machine interface, translates brain activity into simple yes or no answers to questions with around 70 percent accuracy. That may not seem like enough, but the system represents the first sliver of hope that we may one day be able to reopen reliable communication channels with these patients.
“In just 10 days, the patients were able to reliably use the system to finally tell their loved ones not to worry—they’re generally happy.”