The use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as effective means to compensate for the progressive loss of verbal and gestural communication, has been deeply investigated in the recent literature. The development of advanced AAC systems, such as eye-tracking (ET) and brain-computer interface (BCI) devices, allowed to bypass the important motor difficulties present in ALS patients. In particular, BCIs could be used in moderate to severe stages of the disease, since they do not require preserved ocular-motor ability, which is necessary for ET applications. Furthermore, some studies have proved the reliability of BCIs, regardless of the severity of the disease and the level of physical decline. However, the use of BCI in ALS patients still shows some limitations, related to both technical and neuropsychological issues. In particular, a range of cognitive deficits in most ALS patients have been observed. At the moment, no effective verbal-motor free measures are available for the evaluation of ALS patients' cognitive integrity; BCIs could offer a new possibility to administer cognitive tasks without the need of verbal or motor responses, as highlighted by preliminary studies in this field. In this review, we outline the essential features of BCIs systems, considering advantages and challenges of these tools with regard to ALS patients and the main applications developed in this field. We then outline the main findings with regard to cognitive deficits observed in ALS and some preliminary attempts to evaluate them by means of BCIs. The definition of specific cognitive profiles could help to draw flexible approaches tailored on patients' needs. It could improve BCIs efficacy and reduce patients' efforts. Finally, we handle the open question, represented by the use of BCIs with totally locked in patients, who seem unable to reliably learn to use such tool.
- Cognitive Assessment
- Research Methods