Experimental technology developed under the Horizon 2020-funded ComaWare project could have the ability to allow coma patients to successfully communicate with those around them.
The mindBEAGLE® includes an array of electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes inside a soft cap that is used to measure brain activity in order to tell if a patient is conscious. If so, the patient may be able to communicate.
The technology was tested on a woman in Sicily, Italy, who has locked-in syndrome. The cap has enabled her to successfully communicate with her family after years of silence.
The founder of Guger Technologies, the Austrian company who created the mindBEAGLE, Dr Christoph Guger, said: “The family was unsure if she was still there, they had seen no sign of consciousness for so long.”
As scientists learn more about comas, it has become clear that there are various states of consciousness along the spectrum, from being in a deep coma to having normal brain function.
Guger stated that differentiating patients who are in a coma from those in a minimally conscious state is a major challenge. To the naked eye, they all appear unresponsive.
Features include a simple auditory test assessing the patient’s capacity for hearing and understanding, and also a communication mode where the patient is asked questions. If patients offer a response through the EEG, doctors can learn whether or not they’re aware of their environment.
Wearable EEG systems also promise to revolutionise epilepsy care. Around 65 million people currently suffer with epilepsy worldwide.
Similarly, Professor Esther Rodriguez-Villegas of Imperial College London, UK, has won a European Research Council (ERC) grant to develop a consumer product which could be worn overnight to test people with sleep disorders.
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