Music Therapy for Epilepsy

October 5, 2015
Samantha J. Peterson

Researchers discovered the brains of people with epilepsy react differently to music, thus potentially opening to door to a new, conjunctive therapy.

Based on findings presented at the 123rd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, the brains of people with epilepsy appear to react differently to music than the brains of people without the disorder.

In roughly 80% of epilepsy cases, seizures appear to start in the temporal lobe. Because music is processed in the auditory cortex in the same area of the brain, Charyton and colleagues, of The Ohio State University, were interested in studying the effects of music on the brain of people with epilepsy.

From September 2012 to May 2014, researchers measured, via EEG, the brainwave patterns of 21 people with epilepsy and compared the data to that of individuals without epilepsy. The study participants listened to 10 minutes of silence, followed by a random selection of either John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” or Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major. This was followed by 10 more minutes of silence, the other of the two musical pieces, and a final 10 minutes of silence.

Brainwave activity was significantly higher while both groups of subjects were listening to music. Researchers noted that the brains of people with epilepsy synchronized more with the music than in people without the disorder. The synchronization did not trigger seizures and occurred in the frontal cortex and temporal cortex.

According to Charyton and colleagues, “We speculate that music may be useful to enhance electrical activity specific to the frontal and temporal cortices.” While researchers do not believe music can replace current epilepsy treatment, it is possible that music can be used in conjunction with traditional therapy to help prevent seizures. Stress can trigger seizures and many of the patients with epilepsy reported feeling relaxed after listening to the music. Further studies are planned.