Section: Application Domains
Brain computer interfaces for clinical applications
A brain computer interface (BCI) is a device aiming to decode brain activity, thus creating an alternate communication channel between a person and the external environment. BCI systems can be categorized on the basis of the classification of an induced or evoked brain activity. The central tenet of a BCI is the capability to distinguish different patterns of brain activity, each being associated to a particular intention or mental task. Hence adaptation, as well as learning, is a key component of a BCI because users must learn to modulate their brainwaves to generate distinct brain patterns. Usually, a BCI is considered a technology for people to substitute some lost functions. However, a BCI could also help in clinical rehabilitation to recover motor functions. Indeed, in current neuroscience-based rehabilitation it is recognized that protocols based on mental rehearsal of movements (like motor imagery practicing) are a way to access the motor system because they can induce an activation of sensorimotor networks that were affected by lesions. Hence, a BCI based on movement imagery can objectively monitor patients’ progress and their compliance with the protocol, monitoring that they are actually imagining movements. It also follows that feedback from such a BCI can provide patients with an early reinforcement in the critical phase when there is not yet an overt sign of movement recovery.