The effect of music on the brain differs markedly between people with epilepsy and people without it, suggesting a possible avenue for novel treatments of the disease, according to new research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in Toronto Sunday.
Although the research does not point to a possible cure, it could lead to new ways for epilepsy sufferers to find relief. "We believe that music could potentially be used as an intervention to help people with epilepsy," said Christine Charyton, an adjunct assistant professor and visiting assistant professor of neurology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who presented the research.
The researchers' study examined the brain activity in participants exposed to alternating 10-minute rounds of silence and music, which included a Mozart sonata and saxophonist John Coltrane's rendition of "My Favorite Things." All subjects showed heightened brain activity while listening to classical and jazz music. But the brain waves of people with epilepsy lined up more strongly with the music than those of people without epilepsy.
Essentially, the brains of people with epilepsy are more prone to tap along to tunes.
Charyton indicated she was surprised by the findings. "We hypothesized that music would be processed in the brain differently than silence," she said in a press release. "We did not know if this would be the same or different for people with epilepsy."
About eight in 10 epilepsy cases relate to the part of the brain called the temporal lobe, which is also home to the auditory cortex, the area that processes music. This fact is what led Charyton to study how music affects the brains of people with epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a group of disorders characterized by recurrent seizures, with symptoms that can range from mild to debilitating and even fatal. The disease does not have a cure, although a range of treatments are able to limit the number and severity of seizures.
Charyton said the findings wouldn't act to replace existing treatments, but would supplement them -- and that could be music to the ears of people with epilepsy.