These devices allow patients with severe speech and movement limitations to communicate with the people around them.
The test, which is carried out with the Fundación Catalana de ELA Miquel Valls, is the first experience in Catalonia of the application of these devices from a hospital unit.
CatSalut added eye readers to the portfolio of services of the public health system in the second half of 2019, specifically at the Hospital de Bellvitge
Eye tracking devices have established themselves as one of the most effective solutions to ensure independent and fluid communication for patients with ALS and other pathologies that affect speech articulation and limb movements. Until now, however, the high cost of these eye readers and the necessary software package - between 3,000 and 4,000 euros - complicated their acquisition in many cases. In April 2019, the Ministry of Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare approved the incorporation of eye readers as a health product in the public portfolio of services and the same year CatSalut agreed to start the implementation in the Bellvitge Hospital. While the deployment to other public centers is being finalized in Catalonia, ALS patients at the Bellvitge Hospital are already using these devices in a pilot test. Through funding from CatSalut, the HUB has acquired some of these devices to launch this initial experience among its patients.
The progressive neurodegeneration of the motor neurons that causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) causes in most cases problems in the articulation of speech and the movements of arms, hands and legs. In this way, the communication of people who cannot speak or use their hands to speak with the people around them and with the outside world in general is severely limited. "In our experience, solitary confinement of patients is one of the most serious problems and one that distresses patients the most, and providing a solution is essential for them," explains Dr. Mónica Povedano, head of the Functional Unit for Diseases Motor neuron of the Bellvitge University Hospital.
Eye readers are devices that allow the user to communicate based on the movement of their eyes. They consist of an eye reading sensor and a monitor or tablet with Augmented Alternative Communication (ACC) software that includes virtual keyboards, pictographic symbols and other resources. The system identifies the symbol, word or letter that the user is looking at as if it were an eye computer mouse and expresses it with a digitally synthesized speech converter. In addition to immediate oral communication, with eye readers it is possible to connect to the Internet; be active on social media or follow classes online, for example. They can also be used to operate home automation control systems for lights, temperature or electronic devices.
The Catalan Foundation for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Miquel Valls, which has provided professionals in social work, psychology and occupational therapy to the Motor Neuron Unit of the Hospital de Bellvitge for years, has been actively participating in this pilot experience. One of its professionals, Diana Playan, an occupational therapist who deals with the personalized assessment of eye-reading devices at the patient's home and in charge of this project, emphasizes that "not being able to speak, not being able to be active in the same roles daily that before the disease, causes that the identity and the occupational role of the person are diminished.The fact that people affected by ALS / motor neuron can access these devices from the portfolio of services, empowers them on their life and It gives them back the ability to connect and communicate with their environment. "
The Functional Unit for Motor Neuron Disease of the Bellvitge University Hospital is a reference center for the disease. It cares for nearly 300 patients -almost 80% of the total in Catalonia, through a multidisciplinary unit where clinical and psychosocial assistance is carried out, with the collaboration of the Miquel Valls Foundation. Since 2019, she has been part of the CSUR (Centers, Services and Reference Units, recognized by the Ministry of Health) in Minority Neuromuscular Diseases of the Bellvitge Hospital.