‘Sniff’ device helps paralysed mother ‘talk’ to family

July 27th, 2010 - 3:15 pm ICT by IANS  

London, July 27 (IANS) A woman trapped in a paralysed body has been able to ‘talk’ to her family once again, thanks to an amazing device that converts sniffs into speech.
The 51-year-old school teacher was diagnosed with ‘locked in syndrome’ after a severe stroke left her fully awake, but unable to move.

For seven months, her only means of communication as she lay on her bed were the movements of her eyes to signal ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions from doctors and her family, reports the Daily Mail.

Professor Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, said the ’sniff controller’ let the mother of six to write a ‘moving and surprising’ private message to her children.

But after becoming the first patient to try out the ’sniff controller’, she was able to express her feelings once again, Israeli researchers behind the invention revealed, according to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

‘Locked in syndrome’ occurs when the lower brain and brain stem are damaged, but the upper brain - with its higher mental functions - is left intact.

It can be caused by head injuries, drug overdose, blood diseases, strokes, bleeding on the brain or infections.

Researchers believe the sniff controller could help hundreds of patients suffering from brain damage who are unable to speak or move their limbs.

“It was a positive message and her 19-year-old daughter was very moved by it,” he said. “The only previous communication was a yes or no to a specific question.”

The sniff controller blows air gently through a tube placed across a patient’s nose.

When a patient sniffs, the flow of air is interrupted. The machine detects exactly when the sniff takes place along with its strength and duration.

To write using the device, a patient watches a video screen and waits until a cursor lands on a particularly letter, number or phrase.

By timing their sniffs precisely, they can learn to write one letter a minute. The device uses predictive text - similar to the software used on phone text messages - to speed up the process.

The researchers first tested the sniff-controller on the Israeli religious education teacher.

It took her 19 days, practising for 20 minutes a day, to develop a strong enough sniff.

“She started writing with this device at once, initially answering questions, and after a few days generated her first post-stroke meaningful self-initiated communication that entailed a profound personal message to her family,” the researchers wrote.

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