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Music Might Help Researchers Better Understand Epilepsy

Everyone has different reactions to music. When I get home after a hard day at work, I stream music using my Frontier TV Packages. Some classic rock, some acapella, some pop. Anything to wind down after a long day. I’m sure you have your own uses for music as well.

However, researchers have begun to examine the science behind music and its implications. One such research that caught my eye examined the effects on music on people with epilepsy.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder caused by abnormal electrical brain activity. It is characterized by recurring, sudden episodes of unconsciousness, sensory disturbance and/or convulsions. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the world. The condition may be related to brain injuries or hereditary tendencies, but the exact cause is often unknown. Seizures caused by epilepsy can be dangerous to the patient’s safety, work and personal relationships, driving and much more.

What does New Research Tell Us?

A paper titled Music and the Brain: Can music help people with epilepsy? was presented at the 123rd APA Annual Convention. The presenter, Dr. Christine Charyton, believes that music has a potential use as an intervention to help epileptic patients. The research found that the people suffering from epilepsy have a different brain reaction to music than those without epilepsy. This finding could potentially lead to a better understanding of epilepsy and how it may be treated.

The link between Epilepsy and Music

The most common form of epilepsy is temporal lobe epilepsy, making up approximately 80% of all epilepsy cases. In this form, the seizures seem to originate in the brain’s temporal lobe. The temporal lobe is the same region where the auditory cortex is located. Science tells us music is processed in the auditory cortex. Which is why the researchers were interested in the effects of music on a brain with epilepsy.

Dr. Charyton and fellow researchers conducted this research on 21 patients who were in an epilepsy monitoring unit. The duration of the research was from September 2012 to May 2014. The music processing abilities of people both with and without epileptic disorders were under examination. This was done by making use of an electroencephalogram, where electrodes were attached to subjects’ scalps to record brainwave activity.

The Method

Dr. Charyton along with her colleagues documented brainwave patterns while subjecting the participants to periods of silence and music. First, patients listened to around ten minutes of silence. This was succeeded by either Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D minor or My Favorite Things by John Coltrane. Then again a period of silence of 10 minutes, followed by the other of the two musical compositions. Finally, there was a third period of silence of 10 minutes. Obviously, the order of the compositions was randomized for a better sample selection.

The Findings

Dr. Charyton and her fellow researchers found that participants had significantly higher brainwave activity levels while listening to music. Much more importantly, there was a marked difference in brainwave patterns between people with and without epilepsy. Brainwave activity in people with epileptic disorder appeared to synchronize with the playing music, especially in the temporal lobe. This was an important finding since the researchers’ hypothesis was music could be processed differently than silence in the brain. They didn’t know if this process would be different in people with and without epilepsy.

Music as Therapy

Music may not completely replace modern methods of epilepsy treatment just yet, that’s a given. However, according to this research, music may prove to be an effective intervention. It can be used to complement traditional epilepsy treatment in preventing seizures in patients. Mozart’s Sonata for 2 Pianos in D Minor (Mozart K448) may improve how the brain works. Termed the “Mozart Effect”, the theory was first tested in 1993 by a group of researchers on students. A group of students listened to Mozart KK48 for 10 minutes. Afterward, it was noted that listeners had improved “spatial-learning”. This means they performed better in certain tasks like cutting or folding paper. Since then, the stage was set for research into how MozartK448 may affect brain activity in people with epilepsy.

Obviously, more research is needed to determine how exactly Mozart or other compositions influence brain activity in people with epilepsy. But there is no doubt that Mozart does have a unique effect on how the music is processed in the brain. Still more interesting is the difference in music processing in people with and without epilepsy. Now I know why I feel calmer listening to a Mozart recording while holding for a Cox Customer Service representative.

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