Even completely 'locked-in' patients can communicate: study

Despite their inability to move, speak and even make facial expressions to communicate, patients with complete locked-in syndrome have the goal-oriented thinking to express their thoughts to others, plus they are “happy” despite their condition.

A new study conducted by a team of scientists at the Wyss Center for Bio & Neuroengineering in Geneva, Switzerland, overturned the common misconceptions that patients with complete locked-in syndrome don’t have the ability to communicate and that they are not happy due to their condition.

The scientists used a brain-computer interface to read the thoughts of patients to answer questions in “yes” or “no”. They were surprised to see that one of the patients was able to repeatedly deny approval for his daughter to get married.

When a 23-year-old locked-in female was asked by the researchers if her mother’s name was Margit, the interface detected her correct answer of “yes.” When the patients were locked-in, it was still possible for some of them to develop ways of communication with eye movements.

They also found that the patients reported being happy. The researchers estimated that the patients’ quality of life depends on positive social attention and care from family and friends.

The encouraging findings of the new research published in the Tuesday (Jan. 31st) edition of the scientific journal PLOS Biology.