Tongue Studs Can Give Paralyzed People Greater Control Over Mobility Devices

Martin Mireles has been paralyzed from the neck down for nearly twenty years. He can maneuver a mobility chair by steering it with his mouth, but a new magnetic tongue stud developed by researchers at the Northwestern University School of Medicine makes it a lot easier:

Mr. Mireles, 37, tested the equipment one recent afternoon by guiding a wheelchair through an obstacle course lined with trash cans. Mouth closed, he shifted the magnet to travel forward and backward, left and right.[...]

To operate the system, the user wears a headset with sensors that pick up magnetic signals from the tongue ring. Moving the tongue to the mouth’s upper left corner, for instance, moves the wheelchair forward. (The researchers hope that in the future, touching each tooth could signal a different command, from turning on the television to answering the phone to opening a door.)

Researchers decided to use the tongue because they wanted to take advantage of some of the functions a severely disabled person still had. The tongue does not tire easily, they said, and it is not usually affected by a spinal cord injury because it is directly connected to the brain through a cranial nerve.

Link -via Gizmodo | Photo: Steve Kagan/NYT

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Interesting, Ryan S. I've bought The Brain That Changes Itself but I'm yet to get around to reading it as my to read pile is currently taller than I am. I used to work with stroke patients and individuals who had nerves severed during surgery, and we used various devices that employed the use of electrical currents in the muscles of disused limbs to promote neurogenesis and minimise muscle wastage. I must admit I was tempted to ask some of my patients with visual neglect to draw clocks for me :)
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Overlooking the circularity of the title "The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge is a good source of information regarding Taub's CIT, other forms of therapy and neuroplasticity in general.
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There is a double-bind when it comes to treating the disabled. There are several treatment methods which should be assigned according to their specific conditions. A co-worker of mine is married to a woman who does this job of designing programs for the disabled and a lot of it revolves around expediency. Which may be the best we can achieve in cases where the spinal cord has been severed from the brain or other parts of the body, but if the person's disability is brought on by a neurological event like stroke, aneurysm or tumor then Constraint-Induced Therapy is the most effective means of reestablishing the lost function. With CIT therapy (originally developed by Dr. Taub) the subject is prevented from taking the easiest route to fulfilling a task and is forced, by constraint, to use their failed feature. If for example I have lost the use of my right arm due to stroke, CIT-therapy suggests my left arm should be incapacitated. This will force me to use my right arm which will gradually regain functionality with practice, but if I am left to recover on my own I will develop what Taub calls "Learned non-use" wherein I will learn not to use my right arm and instead choose to use my left arm because it is easier. Under these conditions I will never regain the use of my right arm. In-fact, whatever I have that makes doing things easier inhibits the recovery of my affected limb.

The well-known neuroscientist and author Jill Bolte-Taylor, author of "My Stroke of Insight" claims in her book that after losing the vast majority of her brain function she had to constantly challenge herself, never settling for the easy road. She lost half of her brain and the majority of her understanding of neuroscience along with it. After her stroke she couldn't even talk straight, let alone present a lecture, but after years of self-imposed CIT, she was able to right a book detailing in neuroscientific terms, her experience and her recovery.
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