Los Angeles The severely disabled, including those “locked in” to their bodies as a result of accidents or disease, may soon have a new way to communicate and move around, Israeli scientists said Monday.
By sniffing in and out through their noses, more than a dozen quadriplegics were able to control computers that allowed them to write and to guide a wheelchair, the team reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The technology relies on the fact that quadriplegics and others retain control of their soft palettes, which regulate breathing through the nose. Even people who are not able to breathe on their own can control the new device by blocking and releasing the flow of air forced through their noses by a pump.
The technology “may provide a host of viable solutions for the growing population of individuals who are severely disabled,” the team wrote.
It would be particularly valuable for people who have locked-in syndrome, in which they can do little more than flutter an eye, he said. For many other patients, however, alternatives exist, including controlling devices through a breathing tube or with their tongue.
The mechanism is actually relatively simple. Small tubes inserted in the nose monitor sniffs and exhalations, allowing the user to control a computer. To control a wheelchair, for example, two short sniffs signal “forward,” while two short exhalations signal “back.”