Artificial eye blink pacemaker - A first investigation into the blink production using constant-interval electrical stimulation

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Jani Lylykangas, Mirja Ilves, Hanna Venesvirta, Ville Rantanen, Eeva Mäkelä, Antti Vehkaoja, Jarmo Verho, Jukka Lekkala, Markus Rautiainen, and Veikko Surakka

Artificial eye blink pacemaker - A first investigation into the blink production using constant-interval electrical stimulation

Proceedings of the 2017 Joint Conference of the European Medical and Biological Engineering Conference (EMBEC) and the Nordic-Baltic Conference on Biomedical Engineering and Medical Physics (NBC), volume 65 of IFMBE Proceedings, Tampere, Finland, June 2017

Facial paralysis due to damage of the facial nerve affects the function of facial muscles, including the muscles responsible for eye blinking. The absence of the eye blink can lead to severe and permanent corneal damage as the protection and lubrication of the eye is decreased. Thus, it would be highly important to provide an aid to sustain the eye health. The present aim was to study the effects of long-term electrical eye blink stimulation using a facial stimulation prototype. Five healthy participants watched a movie for 78 minutes, while the eye blinks were produced to their left eye by pre-programmed, timer-triggered blink stimulation at fixed intervals. We analyzed the functionality of the stimulation prototype, potential changes in the quality of the produced blinks, and the ratings of experiences in terms of pain, discomfort, and naturalness. We also analyzed the acuity of vision before and after the stimulation. The results showed that the stimulated eye blink was rated as not painful, somewhat uncomfortable, and slightly unnatural. With three participants the stimulation evoked a full eye closure throughout the study, and with two participants, the stimulation evoked partial blink after some time. Further, on four of the cases, the vision of the stimulated eye was better after the movie than before it. The participants told that the stimulation did not disturb the movie watching. As the findings were promising, the next steps include more comprehensive tests both with intact participants and with persons having an acute facial paralysis.

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