'Mind talk' device helps paralyzed
Hitachi's "Kokoro-gatari" (Mind-talk) allows patients to communicate "yes" or "no" by measuring blood flow in their brains.
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(CNN) -- Japanese scientists have created a device that could enable severely paralyzed people to communicate simply by measuring changes in their cerebral blood flow.
The communication device, created by electronics giant Hitachi, has been developed with people who suffer from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in mind.
Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS is a progressive wasting away of certain nerve cells of the brain and spinal column called motor neurons.
It ultimately affects all voluntary muscles, meaning people with ALS suffer from severe muscular paralysis making them incapable of even the slightest movements including blinking.
Hitachi's "Kokoro-gatari" (Mind-talk), developed in conjunction with Excel of Mechatronix Corp and Japan's ALS Association, allows patients to communicate "yes" or "no" by measuring blood flow in their brains.
Although sufferers ultimately lose the power to move and speak, they continue to think normally.
The device works through a headband, which emits near-infrared rays to measure the flow of blood, worn by the patient.
If a patient wants to say "yes" to a question, he or she can activate the brain by calculating or singing a song mentally, which cause blood to gather in the frontal lobe.
The device would then detect the increased blood flow. When patients want to say "no," they would just stay relaxed to keep the flow unchanged.
An answer, about 80 percent correct by an average, would come in 36 seconds, Agence France-Presse reported.
The idea for "Kokoro-gatari" came in 1999, after Shinjiro Oshima, 56, phoned Hitachi asking for help creating something to help his wife, who is an ALS sufferer, communicate.
"Caregivers are always wondering if what they have done is okay to patients ... as there is no way to confirm it," Japan ALS Association spokesperson Kensuke Yanagita told AFP.
Japan ALS Association represents 6,500 patients, families, medical experts and volunteers.
"You may think the accuracy rate is 20 percent less than perfect but it is a big leap from zero for us. At least caregivers would be able to know the patient is feeling good or not," he said.
The association has put up 2.5 million yen ($22,200) into the project, which has also got more than 40 million yen of subsidies from Japan's health ministry. Hitachi has not disclosed how much it spent on it, AFP reported.
The developers hope to market the device by the end of the year in Japan, with a price tag of less than 470,000 yen ($4,200.)
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