Researchers from Belgium and Britain have succeeded in communicating with a man presumed to be in a vegetative state, by using a ground-breaking technique based on thought-association.
The scientists used brain scanners to detect certain types of thought and, by asking the patient to associate those thoughts with the reply “yes” or “no”, were able to establish a form of dialogue.
“If you want to say “yes”, imagine yourself playing your favourite sport,” said Dr Steven Laureys of the University of Liege. “There are regions of the brain that will become active and we can measure them very easily. If they want to say “no”, then imagine another activity. They think of other things, stimulating other regions of the brain, so I can read “yes” or “no” by simply watching what happens in their brain.”
The 22-year-old victim of a car accident had not been able to communicate for five years. However only one out of the 54 patients who took part in the trial was able to establish a dialogue and researchers are wary of raising exaggerated
hopes among families.