There is a new machine that can help individuals that have lost the ability to speak talk again.
Cathy Wolf lost her ability to speak, but through a new speech assist machine called the Brain-Computer Interface system, she can communicate again.
Cathy Wolf of Katonah, N.Y., is able to manage only a small amount of muscle movement in her face and neck. Still, she’s helping test an alternative communication system that, it’s hoped, will help her and others with ALS compensate for this loss of voluntary muscle control.
|Wolf currently uses the WiViK onscreen keyboard, E-triloquist speech program software and a switch she can operate with her eyebrow. When the time comes, she says, she will use BCI full time.|
The Brain-Computer Interface system reads electric currents created by nerve cells talking to each other in the brain. It allows users to control a computer and communicate through e-mail, other computer-based communication systems, or synthetic speech.
Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) is under development by researchers at the Wadsworth Center, an arm of the New York State Department of Health, in Albany, N.Y. The BCI system — comprising a small laptop computer, an amplifier, a 20-inch monitor and a cap fitted with electrodes — “reads” the electric currents created by cellular activity in the brain, allowing the user to control a computer and communicate through e-mail, other computer-based communication systems or synthetic speech.
Brain signals instead of muscles It’s hoped that BCI will be made widely available for in-home use by people unable to communicate by other means as a result of disease or injury. Although it has potential for use by people affected by spinal cord injuries, stroke or other diseases, Wolf and the four other people currently testing the system all have ALS.
The BCI system is calibrated to the individual, and its use in anyone with advanced ALS requires a caregiver or someone else who can first put the cap containing the electrodes on the user’s head, and then start the system. From there, the user can control everything using brain signals instead of muscles, up to and including shutting down the computer.
In fall 1997, Wolf learned she has ALS. Since then, management of the disease has included a tracheostomy and ventilator, and a feeding tube. Unable to speak, Wolf communicates with her husband Joel and the rest of the world using a WiViK onscreen keyboard; E-triloquist speech program software; and a SCATIR switch that works through detection of a reflected beam of light and which she operates with her eyebrows.
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