A Future of Possibilities: Typing with Thoughts
Jonathan Wolpaw, brain injury researcher, works for the Wadsworth Center in Albany, NY, where he has been developing a revolutionary system that allows victims of paralysis the opportunity to communicate. Essentially, by reading certain brainwave patterns, the system recognizes the specific letter on which the patient focuses, and marks it on the computer screen.
Although it takes about 15 seconds to determine the correct letter, this system provides a paralyzed person the ability to have conversations with loved ones. The system works by putting on a scientific skullcap rife with gel filled electrodes in the fabric that records brain activity. The computer screen then displays an array of dissimilar flashing patters next to a specific letter, while the tester concentrates intently on a specific pattern. The person’s brain activity will mirror the flashing pattern on the screen that has been chosen and will record the specific letter. Again, it may not be the most time efficient exercise, but at the moment, it could potentially give paralyzed people a renewed vigor for life.
“With the advent of life-support technologies such as home ventilators, it’s possible for people who are severely disabled to continue to live for long periods of time,” Wolpaw said. But one of the big issues for people in these situations is that they want to continue to communicate. “If they lose that,” he said, “a lot of the reason for continuing to live goes as well.”
Countless advancements, no matter how minute, are occurring in the field of communication, whether it be for fully functioning people or those with severe brain impediments. Those with cognitive deficits are unsurprisingly affected by depression and anxiety, possibly stemming from their inability to clearly communicate with others. Because paralyzed people essentially feel like they are alone, they lose the will to live. Hopefully, as time progresses, the gap will be bridged between the full able and those with communicative obstructions. With the help of Jonathan Wolpaw, and the system he has developed, a few patients have already begun their efforts to correspond and soon more and more will reap the fruits of technological developments.