People with degenerative neurological diseases that cause paralysis may slow the progress of their illness by using computers to communicate before the affliction sets in deeply, research suggests.

In a study published in the journal Psychophysiology, a scientist at the University of Tuebingen in Germany found that teaching ALS patients to use a brain-computer interface to communicate can mitigate the disease's development.

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, progressively destroys nerve cells, or neurons, ultimately resulting in paralysis. This can result in a condition called the completely locked-in state (CLIS), in which intentional thought or mental reaction to external stimulus can rarely be translated into physical movement.

Medical psychology and behavioural neurobiology professor Niels Birbaumer's research found that initiating a brain-computer interface before the CLIS state occurs can help a patient to communicate through electronic devices.

The interaction is believed to ease the nervous system's destruction.

The study's results also call into question beliefs about the quality of life of people who are paralysed. Individuals surveyed were mentally healthier than psychiatrically depressed patients without a life-threatening disease.

Nine per cent of ALS patients had long episodes of depression, most of which occurred immediately following diagnosis and after having a tracheotomy.

Doctors previously thought the patients' quality of life was extremely low.