Conference Coverage

Can Music Help People With Epilepsy?



TORONTO—The brains of people with epilepsy appear to react to music differently from the brains of those who do not have the disorder, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 123rd Annual Convention. Researchers believe that this finding could lead to new therapies to prevent seizures. “We believe that music could potentially be used as an intervention to help people with epilepsy,” said Christine Charyton, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Professor and Visiting Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, who presented the research.

Temporal lobe epilepsy accounts for approximately 80% of epilepsy cases. Music is processed in the auditory cortex in this same region of the brain, which was why Dr. Chary­ton wanted to study the effect of music on the brains of people with epilepsy.

Dr. Charyton and her colleagues sought to determine whether or not brain electrical activity in persons with epilepsy synchronizes with music differently than in persons without epilepsy.

“The cerebral cortex is histologically organized into long columns of cells. This arrangement amplifies the voltages generated by postsynaptic potentials to the point that they can be measured through the skull,” the researchers said. This effect, of course, is the basis of EEG. “The voltage of a given cell column over a brief time period can be best approximated by a linear summation of cosine waves with many amplitudes, frequencies, and phase angles. We can elucidate the amplitude, frequency, and phase angle of each cosine wave with Fourier spectrum analysis,” the researchers explained. “The electrical activity of these cortical cell columns can synchronize, which greatly increases the amplitude of EEG activity. Profound electrical synchronization between cell columns is the basis for the generation of epileptic seizures. Synchronization between frequency pairs, or cell columns, in EEG can be detected by bispectrum analysis.”

The researchers compared the musical processing abilities of the brains of people with and without epilepsy using EEG. They collected data from 21 patients who were in the epilepsy monitoring unit at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center between September 2012 and May 2014.

The researchers recorded brainwave patterns while patients listened to 10 minutes of silence, followed by either Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, Andante Movement II (K448) or John Coltrane’s rendition of “My Favorite Things,” a second 10-minute period of silence, the other of the two musical pieces, and finally a third 10-minute period of silence. The order of the music was randomized.

The researchers found significantly higher levels of brainwave activity in participants when they were listening to music. More important, said Dr. Charyton, brainwave activity, especially in the temporal lobe, in people with epilepsy tended to synchronize more with the music, compared with people without epilepsy.

“We were surprised by the findings,” said Dr. Charyton. “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.”

While she does not believe that music would replace current epilepsy therapy, Dr. Charyton said that this research suggests that music might be a novel intervention in conjunction with traditional treatment to help prevent seizures in people with epilepsy.

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