Importance of spoken language and movement in communication

None of us can imagine our lives without communication and movement. They both give people the opportunity to learn and share knowledge with each other, to work and accumulate experience, to share their moods and emotions, to inform others about events, and to express their own opinions. Without gestures, facial expressions, and speech, people would cease to understand each other, and communication would be very difficult.

According to research conducted by the University of Arizona under the direction of Matthias R. Mehl, an associate professor of psychology, on average a person says 16,000 words a day. Assuming that each of us spends seven to eight hours sleeping leads us to the conclusion that we say 15-16 words per minute. Of course, this general information does not account for any age, race, or social status of the subjects but can still demonstrate one thing - people tend to constantly communicate. Even those who were the most closed and silent among the people, who took part in the experiments, recited at least 500 words a day.

Each phrase uttered by us may acquire different significance according to the tone and intonation, and even the same words spoken with different expressions can take on very different meanings. When communicating through speech, a person employs in a perfect synchrony nearly 100 various muscles of the tongue, lips, jaw, neck, and chest, uttering a completely different sound every 14 seconds. That is why speech is so important in communication and the transfer of information from one person to another.

We often supplement the information transmitted through words by facial expressions and gestures. Human gestures can vary so much for different peoples and countries that there are special dictionaries of nonverbal communication.

Some people, because of hearing damage or inability to speak, have to communicate using special symbols for their entire life. There are full-fledged sign languages with which the deaf can communicate. Such languages, which consist of various gesture combinations, can differ significantly from each other in different geographical regions. Herewith, to indicate proper nouns or complex terms, is used a so-called finger alphabet or manual alphabet in which each letter corresponds to a certain location of the fingers.

Paralysis causes and consequences

But it may happen that a person is entirely limited in communication, not being able to express himself either by speech or by sign language. This is due to the loss of motor activity - partial (hypokinesia) or complete (akinesia). In the first case, the mobility is lost due to various diseases of the nervous system and post-traumatic states of the brain and spinal cord as well as strokes. In the second case, the loss of activity is a consequence of complex mental disorders and paralysis.

Paralysis designates mobility disorders or its complete loss in parts of the body, modification, and progressive loss of motor function due to damages of the nervous system. The reasons for movement disorders are diverse: degenerative, hereditary or congenital malformations of the central nervous system; birth injury (brachial plexus lesions, cerebral palsy); infectious diseases - polio, meningitis, tuberculosis, syphilis, viral encephalitis.

Paralysis can be caused by reasons of organic character - a metabolism disorder, infections and intoxication, cancer, vascular lesions, malnutrition, toxic causes - vitamin B1 deficiency, heavy metal poisoning, alcoholic neuritis, and so on. Akinesia can be due to severe injuries and fractures when they affect motor centers and their pathways. Motor activity loss can also be caused by multiple sclerosis or diseases of psychogenic nature or any other damage to the central nervous system.

Polio, hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes, Guillain-Barre syndrome and other lesions make a person lose the ability to move and react adequately to external stimuli. The patient loses the motor activity and speech, but remains fully conscious. In this case, we are dealing with the syndrome of isolation or differentiation, or in other words – the “locked-in” syndrome.

All of us are so used to the constant movement and communication through speech that all these diseases and problems can seem totally distant and insignificant. But, after losing in one terrible moment something that was considered so routine and natural, the patient will literally be cut off from the world. There will be no possibility for him to move, to ask the doctor to help, or tell his close ones about his condition. This is an irreparable loss for both the patient and his family.

The only salvation for the patient in this case is his eyes. Even in the case of complex hemiplegia (paralysis of muscles of one side of the body), many people retain a total or partial ability to control their eyes and blink, as cranial nerves driving the eyeballs remain intact. With eye movements and blinks, he can respond to unambiguous questions from the doctor. For example: one blink - yes, two blinks - no. At the same time, the patient has to resign himself to the fact that he’ll be unable to communicate voluntarily outside of simple, one-word answers. Or does he?

Difficulties that arise when communicating with paralyzed patients

As shown by medical practice, there are other ways to communicate with patients, who as a result of injury or other diseases have completely lost motor function of the body. Experts have developed a letter matrix with which the patient very slowly, but surely can perform communication with the staff of medical institutions and family. Their operating principle is simple enough - the doctor or his assistant indicates to the patient one by one the characters from the text matrix, and the latter by blinking or other eye movement, spells the words.

However, for both the patient and the assistant, it is a hard work that requires certain skills, patience, and constant attention because it would take a long time just to compose character by character a few words or a short sentence. For now this is the only way that gives a person the opportunity not just to answer questions, but to communicate, describe his state, or ask the staff for something.

Despite the apparent simplicity of use, this method is quite complicated in practical application. First, the patient requires a sufficiently long period of time to get used to this way of communication, and the assistant will need to get used to the behavior of the patient to avoid choosing wrong letters in the matrix because a paralyzed man’s eye movements can often be vague and chaotic. Natural blinking may occur, etc. There are times when each of the letters in the word are chosen only after three or four attempts. Often there is a need to start over, and the result of half an hour of hard work can only be a small sentence. Moreover patients chained to a wheelchair or bed get tired quickly, and their optic nerves are in constant tension, which can be removed only by a long rest or sleep. And finally, when using a text matrix, an important condition must be observed: The assistant should spend as much time as possible in direct contact with the patient, something that is often impossible due to scheduling in a medical facility.

All three of these conditions lead to the same consequence: For a paralyzed patient communication is not only difficult, but also quite expensive. Even in the case where a student will serve as an assistant and work for only $10 an hour, which is a minimum pay for such a complex and meticulous work, and if with his help the patient will communicate only a couple of hours a day, the final cost will be an impressive $600 monthly. And this despite the fact that the rest of the time the patient will actually be without any possibility of communication!

Of course, there are insurance companies, which in the case of such incidents will take care of the sick, pay for all or part of the services of specialized clinics and their personnel, but it happens only in few cases. Many paralyzed people have to suffer alone in a small cage of their own immobilized body, being able to communicate with others only a few hours a day, and sometimes even less.

In this case, the solution for many of them are the eye-tracking computer systems.