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OU prof working on ways to understand those who cannot speak or move

Imagine how frustrating it would be if you could not let family members and friends know that you understood what they were saying to you.

That is the dilemma that many stroke and brain injury victims face each day.

Brooke Hallowell, a professor of communications sciences and disorders at Ohio University in Athens, is working to make it possible for medical professionals and communication therapists to assess a person's language comprehension even when the individual cannot speak or move.

She is working with Hans Kruse, professor of information and telecommunication systems, and LC Technologies to produce technology known as Eyetracking Comprehension Assessment System, or ECAS, that allows a clinician to evaluate a person's ability to understand questions or commands based on eye movement.

Twenty years in development, ECAS has just completed a phase I project with $700,000 in funding from the National Institutes for Health. The research is about to enter phase II and could be ready for commercial application within a few years, says Hallowell.

This technology could provide significant quality of life boosts for victims of stroke, brain injuries or individuals with congenital brain dysfunctions by allowing them to participate more fully in their treatment, to live at home instead of in an institution or to socialize more.

The system works by using infrared light to monitor eye movement and check for fixation on certain images shown on a screen while a clinician communicates questions or commands.

"When the eyes remain focused on a particular area you can measure comprehension," says Hallowell. "You have to have stable eye movement to see things."

Although eye tracking technology has been used in other areas, such as research on how healthy individuals perform tasks, such as driving, piloting a plane or using certain products, it has not been developed to help with victims of brain injuries before now.

"Knowing how much a person understands is critical for many things in their life," says Hallowell. "Now we can get a better picture of that."

Source: Brooke Hallowell, Ohio University
Writer: Val Prevish

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