Computer with brain connections changing quality of life of paralyzed

Patients with neurological diseases offered new hope

Tuebingen, Germany – November 02, 2006 -- Fundamental theories regarding consciousness, emotion and quality of life in sufferers of paralysis from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as 'Lou Gerhig's disease') are being challenged based on new research on brain-computer interaction. ALS is a progressive disease that destroys neurons affecting movement. The study appears in the latest issue of Psychophysiology. The article reviews the usefulness of currently available brain-computer –interfaces (BCI), which use brain activity to communicate through external devices, such as computers.

The research focuses on a condition called the completely locked-in state (CLIS, a total lack of muscle control). In a CLIS situation, intentional thoughts and imagery can rarely be acted upon physically and, therefore, are rarely followed by a stimulus. The research suggests that as the disease progresses and the probability for an external event to function as a link between response and consequence becomes progressively smaller, it may eventually vanish altogether.

Researchers have found that by implementing a BCI before the CLIS state occurs, a patient can be taught to communicate through an electronic device with great regularity. The continued interaction between thought, response and consequence is believed to slow the destruction of the nervous system.

The findings are also raising a number of new questions about the quality of life amongst paralysis sufferers. Patients surveyed were found to be much healthier mentally than psychiatrically depressed patients without any life-threatening bodily disease. Only 9% of ALS patients showed long episodes of depression and most were during the period following diagnosis and a period of weeks after tracheotomy.

"Most instruments measuring depression and quality of life are invalid for paralyzed people living in protected environments because most of the questions do not apply to the life of a paralyzed person. Special instruments had to be developed," says Niels Birbaumer, Ph.D., author of the study.

This contrasts previously accepted notions as many doctors believe that the quality of life in total paralysis is extremely low and continuation of life is a burden for the patient. The study challenges the myth of helplessness, depression and poor quality of life in paralyzed persons that lead to hastened decisions on euthanasia.

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This study is published in the current issue of Psychophysiology. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact journalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net

Niels Birbaumer, Ph.D. is a professor of medical psychology and behavioral neurobiology at the University of Tuebingen, Germany and a member of the German Academy of Science. He has published more than 500 scientific papers on this topic over the last 30 years. Dr. Birbaumer is the recipient of the Einstein World Award of Science and served as president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR). He can be reached for questions at: niels.birbaumer@uni-tuebingen.de

Psychophysiology is the oldest, first, and most established journal in its field. This prestigious international journal plays a key role in advancing psychophysiological science and human neuroscience, covering research on the interrelationships between the physiological and psychological aspects of brain and behavior. Psychophysiology reports on new theoretical, empirical and methodological advances in: psychology and psychiatry, cognitive science, cognitive and affective neuroscience, social science, health science and behavioral medicine, and biomedical engineering. The journal publishes theoretical papers, evaluative reviews of literature, empirical papers, methodological articles, meeting announcements, and fellowship opportunities. For more information, please visit: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/loi/psyp

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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