Music therapy could help people with epilepsy, possibly reducing the frequency of the seizures many suffer, a new study has shown.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by abnormal electrical activity in the brain and can cause seizures and convulsions. It affects about 2.5 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
In about 80% of patients, seizures appear to originate in the temporal lobe – the same portion of the brain that processes music, the American Psychological Association (APA) noted in a news release.
For the new study, researchers studied the brainwaves of people with and without epilepsy as they listened to classical and jazz music mixed with periods of silence. After 10 minutes of silence, participants listened to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major or John Coltrane’s rendition of My Favorite Things. After that came another 10 minutes of silence, followed by the piece of music the participant did not hear the first time and then a final round of silence.
The researchers found that study participants had significantly more brainwave activity when they were listening to music, according to the APA. In epilepsy patients, brainwaves were more synchronized with the music than those of people without the condition.
The Ohio State University researchers presented their report – titled Music and the Brain: Can Music Help People with Epilepsy? – during the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in August 2015. They said their findings indicate that music therapy may be useful in combination with other treatment methods in controlling seizures in epilepsy patients.
There are a variety of potential causes of epilepsy, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Those include imbalances in neurotransmitters, abnormal brain development, illness and brain injury. Treatments can include medication, surgery, dietary changes and nerve stimulators.
The National Institute estimates the annual cost of epilepsy at more than $15 billion, including medical care and lost wages.
The idea of music influencing brain activity is not new and has been referred to as the “Mozart effect.” In 1993, researchers found that participants who listened for 10 minutes to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos – the same piece of music used in the epilepsy study – performed better on spatial-reasoning skills such as folding and cutting paper.