Don’t be surprised if someone you know who gets diagnosed with epilepsy has their doctor prescribe classical music. That’s because researchers in Canada saw epilepsy patients reduce their seizure count by 35 percent after listening to Mozart daily for three months.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a music composer who lived in the latter half of the 1,700s in Austria and is credited with writing more than 600 pieces of music. The study titled "The Rhyme and Rhythm of Music in Epilepsy" was conducted by researchers at the Krembil Brain Institute at Toronto Western Hospital. It compared the effects of Mozart’s "Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448" on reducing seizures compared to other music. In this instance it was a scrambled version of the Mozart composition with a similar mathematical structure but without the same rhythmicity.
"In the past 15 to 20 years, we have learned a lot about how listening to one of Mozart's compositions in individuals with epilepsy appears to demonstrate a reduction in seizure frequency," says Dr. Marjan Rafiee, lead author on the study. "But, one of the questions that still needed to be answered was whether individuals would show a similar reduction in seizure frequency by listening to another auditory stimulus—a control piece—as compared to Mozart."
Approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. currently have epilepsy and about 3 million are adults. While seizures are normally the most visible manifestation, other symptoms of epilepsy include fainting, muscle spasms, amnesia, staring spells and temporarily paralysis after a seizure.
The year-long study involved 13 patients who kept their current medication routine during the study and tracked the frequency of seizure episodes in a diary. After a three-month baseline period the group was divided and they alternated between the Mozart Sonata and the scrambled version at three-month intervals. They listened to the music compositions once a day which lasted about nine minutes.
"Our results showed daily listening to the first movement of Mozart K.448 was associated with reducing seizure frequency in adult individuals with epilepsy," says Dr. Rafiee. "This suggests that daily Mozart listening may be considered as a supplemental therapeutic option to reduce seizures in individuals with epilepsy."
Damage to the brain through tumor or stroke can trigger epilepsy as can infectious diseases such as meningitis, AIDS or viral encephalitis. Stroke is the most common cause of epilepsy in people over the age of 35. It is generally treated with nerve pain medication, anticonvulsants and sedatives but the seizures do not respond to medication in about a third of the cases.
"As a surgeon, I have the pleasure of seeing individuals benefit from surgery, however I also know well those individuals for whom surgery is not an option, or those who have not benefitted from surgery, so, we are always looking for ways to improve symptom control, and improve quality of life for those with epilepsy," says Dr. Taufik Valiante, senior author of the study and the Director of the Surgical Epilepsy Program at Krembil Brain Institute at UHN and co-Director of CRANIA. "Like all research, ours raises a lot of questions that we are excited to continue to answer with further research and support from the epilepsy community."