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A spelling device for the paralysed


When Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered from a cortico-subcortical stroke that led to complete paralysis with totally intact sensory and cognitive functions, he described his experience in The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly1 as “something like a giant invisible diving-bell holds my whole body prisoner”. This horrifying condition also occurs as a consequence of a progressive neurological disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which involves progressive degeneration of all the motor neurons of the somatic motor system. These ‘locked-in’ patients ultimately become unable to express themselves and to communicate even their most basic wishes or desires, as they can no longer control their muscles to activate communication devices. We have developed a new means of communication for the completely paralysed that uses slow cortical potentials (SCPs) of the electro-encephalogram to drive an electronic spelling device.

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Figure 1: Response accuracy of subjects using the new spelling device.
Figure 2


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Birbaumer, N., Ghanayim, N., Hinterberger, T. et al. A spelling device for the paralysed. Nature 398, 297–298 (1999).

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