Independent home use of a brain-computer interface by people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

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Abstract

Objective

To assess the reliability and usefulness of an EEG-based brain-computer interface (BCI) for patients with advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who used it independently at home for up to 18 months.

Methods

Of 42 patients consented, 39 (93%) met the study criteria, and 37 (88%) were assessed for use of the Wadsworth BCI. Nine (21%) could not use the BCI. Of the other 28, 27 (men, age 28–79 years) (64%) had the BCI placed in their homes, and they and their caregivers were trained to use it. Use data were collected by Internet. Periodic visits evaluated BCI benefit and burden and quality of life.

Results

Over subsequent months, 12 (29% of the original 42) left the study because of death or rapid disease progression and 6 (14%) left because of decreased interest. Fourteen (33%) completed training and used the BCI independently, mainly for communication. Technical problems were rare. Patient and caregiver ratings indicated that BCI benefit exceeded burden. Quality of life remained stable. Of those not lost to the disease, half completed the study; all but 1 patient kept the BCI for further use.

Conclusion

The Wadsworth BCI home system can function reliably and usefully when operated by patients in their homes. BCIs that support communication are at present most suitable for people who are severely disabled but are otherwise in stable health. Improvements in BCI convenience and performance, including some now underway, should increase the number of people who find them useful and the extent to which they are used.

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