Tag Archives: Communication


Completely ‘locked-in’ patients can communicate

Patients with absolutely no control over their body have finally been able to communicate, say scientists.

A brain-computer interface was used to read the thoughts of patients to answer basic yes-or-no questions.

One man was able to repeatedly refuse permission for his daughter to get married.

The study on four patients in Germany- published in PLOS Biology – also showed they were happy despite the effects of being “locked-in”.

The patients all had advanced forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in which the brain loses the ability to control muscles.

It eventually traps people in their own body – they are able to think, but incapable of moving or talking.

When they become “locked in”, it can still be possible to develop ways of communication using eye movements.

But all the patients in the study were “completely locked in” and could not even move their eyes.

Brain signals

The activity of brain cells can change oxygen levels in the blood, which in turn changes the colour of the blood.

And scientists were able to peer inside the brain using light to detect the blood’s colour, through a technique called near-infrared spectroscopy.

They then asked the patients yes-or-no questions such as: “Your husband’s name is Joachim?” to train a computer to interpret the brain signals.

The system achieved an accuracy of about 75%.

It means questions need to be asked repeatedly in order to be certain of a patient’s answer.

Prof Ujwal Chaudhary, from the Wyss Center in Switzerland where the work was pioneered, told BBC News: “It makes a great difference to their quality of life.

“Imagine if you had no means of communicating and then you could say yes or no – it makes a huge impact.”


Patients who have recovered from locked-in syndrome say being able to communicate makes a huge difference.

Kate Allatt, became locked in for five months when she had a stroke at the age of 39.

Unlike the patients in this study, she became able to communicate when her friends asked her to blink once for yes or twice for no.

She told the BBC: “It was phenomenal, that moment if you could wrap every single Christmas, every single birthday, every single child you’ve ever held in your arms for the first time – that was how exciting it was.”

In one case a daughter wanted the blessing of her completely locked-in father before marrying her boyfriend.

But eight times out of 10 the answer came back no.

“We don’t know why he said no,” said Prof Chaudhary.

“But they got married… nothing can come between love.”

The form of communication is being used for more practical day-to-day means such as finding out if patients are in pain or want a family visit.

Prof John Donoghue, the director of the Wyss Center, told the BBC: “If a person who is totally locked-in is able to communicate, you’re freeing the mind to interact with the world around them.

“That is remarkable.”


Source BBC News

Tapping into dementia

Communicating with individuals with advanced dementia in their own terms can have a profound effect on the lives of those living with the illness, according to a specialist in the subject.

Dr Maggie Ellis, of the University of St Andrews, says that working with an individual’s non-verbal ‘language’ can allow families to connect with loved ones in powerful new ways.

The researcher says the method is a simple but effective means that relatives and professional caregivers can use to retain or create an emotional bond with individuals with advanced dementia.

Alzheimer’s Scotland say the approach, which will be discussed at a special event in St Andrews tonight (Monday 10 November), ‘holds great promise’.

Dr Ellis, a dementia specialist, developed the method of ‘reaching’ individuals in advanced stages of dementia with fellow psychologist Professor Arlene Astell. 

The researchers found that people with advanced dementia respond more readily to reflections of their own communication behaviours than to speech.

Working closely with local nurses, individuals living with advanced dementia and their families, Dr Ellis and Professor Astell have witnessed first-hand the ‘transformative’ impact of the intervention they call ‘Adaptive Interaction’.

Dr Ellis says their discovery is an important insight as rates of dementia increase.

She said, “It really is a case of going back to basics.  At first people find it strange or awkward to communicate with an adult using non-verbal communication such as hand movements or facial expressions.  It requires time and effort, but the important thing is that it really does work.

“I’ve witnessed some really profound reactions to this type of communication.  For some families, it’s the only way they have left to engage in meaningful interactions and retain a close connection to their loved one.  They often describe the discovery that they are able to stay in contact as ‘an amazing feeling’.”

For professional caregivers, the approach provides them with the means to connect with individuals they care for in a way that may have been previously impossible.

The lecture is hosted by the organisation connected baby, recently founded by Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, an Honorary Fellow of the School of Psychology at the University of Dundee. 

Dr Zeedyk, who has trained 20,000 people in the science of connection in the last three years, said, “It is fantastic that this lecture will allow us to highlight how non-verbal capacities remain central to our ability to thrive as human beings, from the moment of birth and throughout our lifespan.  It is too seldom that our understanding of dementia is framed from a developmental perspective.”

The lecture, which 200 people have signed up to attend, will also serve as the launch of a new book co-authored by Drs Ellis and Zeedyk and published by connected baby.  Entitled ‘Rethinking Communication: The connected baby guide to advanced dementia’, the book is aimed at family members and professional carers of people affected by advanced dementia.

Henry Simmons, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Scotland, will speak at the sold-out launch event in St Andrews. He said, “Adaptive Interaction holds great promise. Yet the connected developmental theory that explains its effectiveness is in danger of being misunderstood.  This book does a superb job of showing us how we can overcome this and truly honour each person’s humanity”.

The research has profound implications for the way individuals with advanced dementia are treated, not just by nursing staff, but their families who may feel their loved one is ‘gone’.

Those utilising the techniques developed by Dr Ellis and Professor Astell talk of seeing their loved ones ‘glow’ and laugh and engage in ways they hadn’t seen for a long time, and the comfort they feel from this connection.

Dr Zeedyk added, “Cutting edge science is now showing us that many of the symptoms attributed to dementia can be traced back to emotional attachment patterns established in early in life.  This link surprises people, but it makes perfect sense when you understand the science of connection.

“Those early experiences shape how the brain functions, and especially how it self-regulates stress. Dementia generates a great sense of stress.  If we recognise that, then we can help carers to reduce that stress, rather than be confused by it.”

Source Health Canal

Rihanna: The Secret Weapon in the Battle Against Dementia

There’s a wonderful lady I work with in her late 70s, Elsie*. Her dementia is quite advanced and whilst she can no longer communicate using words, she loves, in fact she lives to sing. When she hears a familiar song her eyes sparkle, her whole body comes alive and she sings as if her life depended on it.

I’ve noticed that this energizing effect becomes less obvious when we play music from any period after the mid-1950s. She seems to recognize many of the Beatles songs and may even join in. But they don’t seem to enliven or embody her in the same way as when we sing Nat King Cole’s When I Fall In Love; which Elsie did so movingly and with such passion in our most recent encounter.

After sharing such a touching moment, I then found myself being rather dismissive on the way home when I switched on the radio and heard Rihanna’s latest release Right Now. ‘I can’t imagine someone in 60 years remembering that’, I thought.

And then it occurred to me that Elsie becomes just as animated when we sing How Much is that Doggy in the Window? So I listened again to Rihanna, but this time I tried to visualise the song being sung years from now by someone with dementia. Musically, it was easy to imagine. It has strong melodic and rhythmic hooks, a simple, repeated structure and easily remembered main lyrics. Just like Daisy Daisy, Que Sera Sera, or any number of other ‘old-time’ songs that are standard repertoire in any nursing home today.

But of course these musical characteristics are shared by the vast majority of successful pop songs. They certainly aren’t indicators of longevity. So what turns a slice of pop music that is by its very nature ‘of its time’ into something that is remembered decades later by someone who has forgotten almost everything else? And in a world of shrinking attention spans and instant gratification, will the pop music of today be remembered in half a century as those classic standards and old-time favourites are now by Elsie and her contemporaries?

I think the answer is yes. And I came to this conclusion whilst considering the role that music plays in the formation of our identity.

Our teenage years are a time when we are separating from our parents, discovering who we want to be and who we want to be with. So, we seek out communities with which to affiliate ourselves. Music, particularly popular music, its artists and styles provide ready-made identities for us to ‘try on’, walk around in for a while and see how comfortable we are in them. In time we discard what doesn’t quite fit – my bedroom full of Bowie posters were replaced (much to my Dad’s relief) by Coltrane and Miles Davis. But more often than not, music and musical culture play a central role in shaping the adult that we become.

As well as helping define our self-image, they also provide a soundtrack to important events and milestones in our lives over these years. Psychologists have found that many of our strongest, most enduring memories are formed between the ages of 16 and 24 during this period of defining and refining our identity. Because music is so central to our lives at that age we often form indelible associations between those lasting memories and specific songs or pieces of music.

As we grow up and journey through adulthood, music tends to take a less pivotal role in determining who we are, superseded by our family, career etc.

Then we get older. We become ill. Our memories start to fail. Figures published by the Alzheimer’s Society indicate that by 2021 over a million people in the UK will have dementia whilst 80% of care home residents suffer from memory loss.

When we lose our memory through old age or dementia, we are no longer able to access the stories of our life, the experiences that shaped us. At this point, the music that helped to define us once again becomes one of the most important things – indeed perhaps, such as for Elsie, the most important thing – we have.

Why? Because music can help recall our stories through those same indelible connections we made between music and the memories of our youth. Our memories and our stories are what makes us who we are, so by allowing people to re-experience their stories, it allows them to re-experience their identity.

This is no doubt why Elsie, now nearly 80, responds so strongly to music of the 40s and early 50s. The memories and feelings she unconsciously stamped on to these songs of her youth all those years ago allow her now to re-live her story.

And yes, to me Rihanna’s latest hit might just be an ephemeral nugget of contemporary pop. But to someone else it might forever be the song that was playing for their first kiss, that reminds them of their university days, or that they turned to when they had their heart broken. For them, the song will transport them back to that place or time for the rest of their lives. And long after the specific memories fade, the feelings and emotions associated with them remain imprinted on the music.

So today’s pop music may be of its time, but it’s not transient. It will be remembered. And it will be used by music therapists like myself in years to come as a lifeline to ensure the Elsie’s of the late-21st Century are able to maintain some connection with the world around them, and with themselves.

Source Huff Post Entertainment