Development of a brain-computer interface for patients in the critical care setting

Andrey Eliseyev, Ian Jerome Gonzales, Anh Le, Kevin Doyle, Jennifer Egbebike, Angela Velazquez, Sachin Agarwal, David Roh, Soojin Park, E Sander Connolly, Jan Claassen
PloS One 2021, 16 (1): e0245540

OBJECTIVE: Behaviorally unresponsive patients in intensive care units (ICU) are unable to consistently and effectively communicate their most fundamental physical needs. Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology has been established in the clinical context, but faces challenges in the critical care environment. Contrary to cue-based BCIs, which allow activation only during pre-determined periods of time, self-paced BCI systems empower patients to interact with others at any time. The study aims to develop a self-paced BCI for patients in the intensive care unit.

METHODS: BCI experiments were conducted in 18 ICU patients and 5 healthy volunteers. The proposed self-paced BCI system analyzes EEG activity from patients while these are asked to control a beeping tone by performing a motor task (i.e., opening and closing a hand). Signal decoding is performed in real time and auditory feedback given via headphones. Performance of the BCI system was judged based on correlation between the optimal and the observed performance.

RESULTS: All 5 healthy volunteers were able to successfully perform the BCI task, compared to chance alone (p<0.001). 5 of 14 (36%) conscious ICU patients were able to perform the BCI task. One of these 5 patients was quadriplegic and controlled the BCI system without any hand movements. None of the 4 unconscious patients were able to perform the BCI task.

CONCLUSIONS: More than one third of conscious ICU patients and all healthy volunteers were able to gain control over the self-paced BCI system. The initial 4 unconscious patients were not. Future studies will focus on studying the ability of behaviorally unresponsive patients with cognitive motor dissociation to control the self-paced BCI system.

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