The patient opens her eyes, but they are unfocused. She is awake yet apparently unaware of anything going on in the hospital room around her. After the accident, she lies in her bed, unresponsive, day after day. What is she thinking?
Soon we may be able to communicate with such "locked-in" minds--trapped in bodies that no longer respond to their mental control. In a blitz of publicity last fall, a team of British researchers announced they had imaged the brain of one of their "vegetative" patients and discovered that she was in fact conscious and aware. Now that same team has developed a way to ask yes-or-no questions of such patients. The idea is radical: we might soon be able to reach a number of people, including 250,000 Americans, who suffer from consciousness disorders--patients who, until now, had been considered beyond treatment.
This article was originally published with the title Freeing a Locked-In Mind.