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article imageMusic may help prevent epileptic seizures, researchers find

By Megan Hamilton     Aug 12, 2015 in Science
Researchers studying epilepsy have made an interesting discovery, with a little help from music by John Coltrane and Mozart.
For people with epilepsy, listening to music causes a rather unusual side-effect known as musical brainwave synchronization.
Scientist Christine Charyton, PHD, had an idea. She knew that 80 percent of epileptic seizures occur in the region of the brain that houses the temporal lobe — the auditory cortex. The auditory cortex also processes music, Engadget reports.
So Charyton and her team at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center hooked up an electroencephalogram so they could track brain activity in the auditory cortex as patients listened to two pieces of music broken up by 10 minutes of silence: Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" and Mozart's "Sonata in D Major."
"We were surprised by the findings," Charyton says. Patients with or without epilepsy showed higher brainwave activity levels while listening to music as opposed to silence, but people with epilepsy were more likely to have their brainwaves synchronize with the music. "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."
"It could be helpful as a new treatment or therapy or prevention one day," she says, according to The Star.
The study suggests that playing jazz or classical piano to patients suffering from the disorder can alter electrical impulses in their brains and help calm them down.
Seizures are triggered by stress, Charyton says. Things like lack of sleep, too much alcohol, the harried moments of everyday life — and music is a promising new innovation that might help people with epilepsy gain control, become more mindful and relax.
In a randomized study that occurred between 2012 and 2014, Charyton collected data on 21 people — six were epilepsy in-patients at the Wexner Medical Center, five were people with nonepileptic seizures, and nine were normal controls.
Upon analyzing the data, she discovered that in the normal controls and those who occasionally suffered seizures but don't have epilepsy, music increased impulses across the entire brain.
Data from the brainwaves of patients with epilepsy was completely different, she says.
They reported being more relaxed while listening to the music and said it made them happier as a result of hearing it, and the electrical activity in their entire temporal lobes synchronized to the music for the duration of the song.
"Like two metronomes locked together and ticking in unison," Charyton says. "Like two balls bouncing at the same rate."
In most cases, when synchronization of any form occurs in an epilepsy patient's brain, it causes a seizure, she says. Amazingly, during this experiment, no seizures occurred.
This is even more surprising: The synchronization to music in the brains of epilepsy sufferers mirrors what happens in the brains of normal, skilled musician when they are listening to music.
"That was surprising."
Charyton said she doesn't believe music would replace current epilepsy therapy, Science Daily reports. What the research does suggest is that music might work as intervention if used in conjunction with traditional treatment to help prevent seizures in people with epilepsy.
For the record, what is epilepsy?
Epilepsies are actually a full spectrum of brain disorders that can range from severe, life-threatening and disabling, to ones that are considerably more benign, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Epilepsy disrupts the normal pattern of neuronal activity, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior and sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. Epilepsies have many possible causes and there are several types of seizures. Anything that disrupts the normal pattern of neuron activity, from illness to brain damage or abnormal brain development, can lead to seizures. The disorder can also develop due to an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of neurotransmitters — chemicals that signal the brain, or changes in key features of brain cells called channels, or some combination of these and perhaps other factors.
Common diagnostic tests for epilepsy include measuring the electrical activity in the brain and brain scans such as magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography.
More about music may prevent epileptic seizures, Music, Epilepsy, Researchers, Christine Charyton
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