Sonata in epilepsy

The August edition of medical journal Epilepsy and Behaviour has an interesting case study of a patient who found that listening to Mozart could reduce his epileptic seizures.

The patient had what are known as ‘gelastic seizures’, meaning they trigger laughter when they occur.

Anticonvulsive drugs didn’t seem to help, and surgery to try and remove the focus of his seizures (often a successful treatment) had little significant effect.

We admitted for assessment a 56-year-old gentleman who had experienced gelastic seizures (laughing fits) since shortly after birth. He developed complex partial seizures during his teenage years and secondarily generalized tonic‚Äìclonic seizures in his midthirties…

It was agreed that he should be admitted for reassessment of his condition and to determine whether further surgical intervention could be of benefit.

A few months prior to his admission, he learned that Mozart’s music had been used, with some success, to enhance spatiotemporal reasoning. He therefore began to listen to Mozart for an average of 45 min a day. He did not listen to one particular piece of music.

Before he began listening to Mozart, he was having gelastic seizures with intense laughter, in association with altered perception and experiential phenomena, at a frequency of five or six per day, as well as secondarily generalized tonic–clonic seizures at an average frequency of seven per month. Electroencephalography revealed some evidence of right hemisphere involvement during the seizures that lasted 15–30 s. Seizures also were associated with a brief rise in heart rate.

Within days of starting to listen to Mozart regularly, he noticed a difference in the pattern of his seizures. In the 3 months during which he had listened to Mozart, he did not have any secondarily generalized tonic–clonic seizures. He continued to have five gelastic seizures a day, but these manifested as simply a brief smile (5–9 s), which he could disguise in the presence of others; in addition, the altered perception and experiential phenomena ceased.

Repeat MRI at this time revealed no change in the hypothalamic hamartoma and no definite or consistent EEG or ECG changes with any of the brief events.

No significant change has been observed during neuropsychometric testing since 2000.

The authors of the study mention in passing the so-called ‘Mozart effect‘ – where the music supposedly helps the brain operate more effectively owing to its typical rhythm which affects brain function.

It’s largely thought to be rubbish by most serious neuroscientists, although that hasn’t stopped a whole industry of ‘brain enhancing’ Mozart products being pushed onto unsuspecting punters.

For some people, epileptics seizures can be triggered by very idiosyncratic things.

As we discussed previously on Mind Hacks, ‘musicogenic epilepsy’ can be triggered by types of music, specific tones, or even specific songs (there’s a good discussion of this in Oliver Sacks’ new book).

It is likely, therefore, that from some people, specific music or types of music will also reduced their chances of having a seizure.

Link to PubMed entry for case study in Epilepsy and Behaviour.

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