Music appears to have a different impact on the brains of people with epilepsy, suggesting it could be used to help treat the condition.
Recently presented at the American Psychological Association's 123rd Annual Convention, the findings reveal that the brains of individuals with epilepsy respond differently to music than those of people without the condition.
As such, study co-author Christine Charyton, of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and colleagues believe music could be used in combination with existing treatments for epilepsy.
Approximately 2.9 million children and adults in the US have epilepsy - a neurological condition characterized by the occurrence of seizures.
According to Charyton, around 80% of epilepsy cases are temporal lobe epilepsy, where seizures begin in the temporal lobe of the brain. The temporal lobe is home to the auditory cortex - the part of the brain that processes sound.
With this in mind, the team set out to investigate how music impacts the brains of individuals with epilepsy.
Music triggered greater synchronization in patients with epilepsy
The researchers analyzed data from 21 individuals who were admitted to the epilepsy monitoring unit at the Wexner Medical Center between September 2012 and May 2014, alongside data from individuals without epilepsy.
Subjects' brainwave patterns were measured via electroencephalogram (EEG) as they took part in a listening exercise.
All participants were required to listen to silence for 10 minutes, before listening to one of three songs - Mozart's Sonata in D Major, Andante Movement II (K448) or John Coltrane's rendition of My Favorite Things - followed by another 10-minute silence. They then listened to the remaining two songs, before listening to another 10-minute silence.
As expected, participants with and without epilepsy demonstrated heightened brainwave activity when they listened to music. However, those with epilepsy showed greater synchronization with the music in the frontal and temporal lobes than participants without the disorder.
Charyton told Medical News Today the team was surprised by these findings. "We knew that musicians synchronize more with music but we were not sure how persons with epilepsy would respond," she said. "Persons with epilepsy synchronize before a seizure. However, in our study, patients with epilepsy synchronized to the music without having a seizure."
Based on these findings, Charyton says that in combination with existing treatments, music could be a "novel intervention" to help prevent seizures in patients with epilepsy. She told us:
"Persons with epilepsy may use the music to relax; stress causes seizures to occur. By listening to the music, many patients reported that they felt relaxed. This study is the first step to see if music could impact the brain."
Charyton added that the team plans to conduct more research to determine the exact point at which music may stimulate synchronization to prevent seizures in epilepsy.
Epilepsy is not the only condition for which music may have therapeutic potential. In 2013, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting music was more effective that prescription drugs for reducing anxiety, and it may even boost the immune system.
Music could also boost surgeons' performance in theater, according to a study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal earlier this month. Researchers found that when surgeons listened to their preferred music, they closed their incisions more effectively.