Eye-tracking technology for ALS patients

May 30, 2018, 9:15 PM | Updated: 9:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Any parent knows it takes savvy to keep track of kids’ busy schedules and homework.

“She doesn’t necessarily check on mine because I have a pretty good track record,” said Caroline Hill, age 13. “It’s definitely been good for her to check on my brother’s grades.”

Joey Hill, age 11, said, “She sets little alarms so I know, like, ‘soccer practice in 30 minutes.’”

What if we told you their mom can’t walk, eat, or even breathe on her own.

“As your disease progresses, your world gets a little smaller,” said Whitney Hill, a mother of four. “But I like to stay involved.”

Whitney has ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Technology is helping her stay independent and productive.

Dr. Summer Gibson, a neurologist at University Hospital, said, “ALS is a lot about losses, and losses one at a time.”

She said technology helps patients maintain strong ties with family and friends through social media.

“You can see those pictures. You can see people growing and all those amazing things, and still be a mom, too,” said Dr. Gibson.

Austin Edenfield is with Team Gleason, a non-profit founded by former NFL football player, Steve Gleason, who has ALS.

“Until there is a medicinal cure for ALS, technology is going to be that cure,” he said. “There are ways to control a mouse with your foot, there’s head tracks, which is using a mouse with your head.”

He said technology is replacing many of the functions the disease has taken away.

“Even if someone can only move their pinkie finger, it’s still possible for them to drive a wheelchair,” he said.

Through eye tracking technology, Whitney has access to shopping, school calendars and teachers.

“There’s a bar at the bottom of her computer screen that focuses on her eyes, and follows her eyes exactly,” said David Hill, Whitney’s Husband.

Infrared lights reflect off Whitney’s eyes, and cameras take up to 50 pictures per second. When she pauses on something of interest, it opens or plays it for her.

“I listen to music, read articles,” she said.

David said, “It’s allowed her to contribute as much as she wants and needs to as a mom, and as a wife and as a partner, it’s been great.”

Whitney said through technology, she’s showing their kids that life didn’t end with the diagnosis. In fact, it’s still rich, and as wonderfully chaotic as ever.

Edenfield said Team Gleason is working with Microsoft to give ALS patients control of a wheelchair by only using their eyes.

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Eye-tracking technology for ALS patients