Harnessing physiological signals to enhance the personhood of non-communicative individuals
Quality of life and definitions of death are both often based on the concept of personhood – a status given by one human being to another as a result of their relationship and successful interaction. Unfortunately, this important attribute is frequently not given to individuals who do not have the ability to communicate or to interact with others. My research is concerned with enhancing the quality of life of non-communicative persons and their caregivers by using novel technologies to reveal and elicit signs of their personhood. Through my research, I have developed technologies based on signals from the autonomic nervous systems of children with severe and profound disabilities that can be used to reveal responses to external stimuli, and as the source of physiologically-generated music (e.g. biomusic). I have also developed technologies based on electroencephalographic (EEG) signals recorded directly from the brain that may be used to assess levels of consciousness and cognitive ability in silent persons. My ultimate goal is to implement such technologies into home and healthcare settings, in order to improve communication, enrich interaction, and enhance the personhood of non-communicative persons and their caregivers.
Dr. Blain-Moraes is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan. Trained as a biomedical engineer at the University of Toronto, her primary research interests focus on building new technologies to develop communication and interaction with individuals who are unable to move or speak. Her doctoral work explored the potential of using autonomic nervous system signals from children with severe disabilities for communication. In her current postdoctoral work, Dr. Moraes is collaborating with anesthesiologists to record EEG from individuals whose levels of consciousness are being deliberately modulated. The goal of this research is to understand the neural correlates of conscious experience in order to detect consciousness in individuals who are non-communicative. She aims to implement these technologies into home and healthcare settings such that all individuals can retain meaningful communication and interaction with their family and caregivers, regardless of their level of (dis)ability.