Music as Medicine

Music makes people happy; it can help relax away stress or invoke positive memories; it can psych up athletes before competition. But new research out of Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center suggests it might also lead to new treatments for epilepsy.

In a paper presented at the recent convention of the American Psychological Association in Toronto, Christine Charyton, an adjunct assistant professor and visiting assistant professor of neurology at the school, says music might be a powerful intervention for those suffering from the seizure disorder.

The auditory cortex of the brain not only processes music but is also the same region in which seizures originate in the temporal lobe, the source of roughly 80% of epileptic cases, Charyton’s paper says. She and her colleagues collected data from 21 patients being monitored for epilepsy at Wexner Medical Center between September 2012 and May 2014.

The patients cycled through listening to 10 minutes of silence, followed by either Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major or John Coltrane’s version of the Sound of Music standard “My Favorite Things.” They then listened to another 10 minutes, followed by whichever song they didn’t hear previously and a final 10 minutes of silence. The order in which each song was played was randomized for the trial.

“The researchers found significantly higher levels of brainwave activity in participants when they were listening to music,” according to a synopsis released earlier this week by the American Psychological Association.
Adds Charyton: “We were surprised by the findings. We hypothesized that music would be processed in the brain differently than silence. We did not know if this would be the same or different for people with epilepsy,” but that’s what the study’s results indicated: the brainwave activity in those suffering from epilepsy were more likely to synchronize with the music, especially in the critically important temporal lobe.

All listeners showed more electrical activity in their brains when listening to music compared to sitting in silence, as measured by an electroencephalogram. The research, albeit a small sample size, could lead to the development of a music-based intervention, to be used in conjunction with medicine, to help prevent or treat seizures.

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