‘Mozart effect’ offers hope that music can help treat drug-resistant seizure disorders

PISA, Italy — Epilepsy is a surprisingly common neurological disorder affecting nearly one in 100 people worldwide. Many find relief through drugs, but for almost one-third of epilepsy patients, pharmaceuticals do not stop seizures that can range from barely noticeable to totally debilitating. If drugs can’t help, could music be the answer? Researchers from the University of Pisa find listening to Mozart’s music may provide a viable, non-invasive treatment for those suffering from seizure disorders.

The concept that music might have beneficial side-effects on mental health started with several “Mozart Effect” findings in the 1990s. Many of the studies since then, however, have been too small or unscientific to give the idea much credence among clinicians.

“This isn’t the first such review of the effect of Mozart’s music on epilepsy,” according to study co-author and neurological disease researcher Dr. Gianluca Sesso in a media release. “But there has been a flow of new research in the last few years, so it was time to stand back and look at the overall picture.”

Researchers unpacked 147 research findings to pluck the most relevant and highest caliber reports on the subject. They used scientifically approved methods to analyze clinical treatments in multiple published works; reducing the number to the best of the best. The team then separated a dozen research papers into nine groups representing the highest level of available science on Mozart’s music as an epilepsy treatment.

Famous composer’s work changes brain waves

The meta-analysis established that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s rich, classical compositions, could indeed change the human brain. Researchers discovered listening to his music, especially on a daily basis, reduced epileptic seizures by an average of between 31 and 66 percent.

Listening to Mozart also reduced the frequency of interictal epileptiform discharges. These are the spikes and waves that occur between seizures in people with epilepsy and that can cause short-term cognitive or neurological dysfunction.

“We need to be open to other therapies,” Sesso urges. “The important thing is that these therapies can be tested and shown to work, and this is what we have shown here.”

The initial Mozart Effect studies used Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major, K.488. The Piano Sonata Number 16 in C major, K.545 also appears to be effective.

“All cultures have music, so it obviously fulfils some psychological need,” says Sesso. “The mechanisms of the Mozart Effect are poorly understood. Obviously other music may have similar effects, but it may be that Mozart’s sonatas have distinctive rhythmic structures which are particularly suited to working on epilepsy.”

The authors add that the impact of music may involve multiple areas of the brain; noting they will need to do more research to establish the mechanisms behind those effects.

“This is a review of research, and not original research. One thing it shows is that we need more consistent studies into the effect of music on the mind,” Sesso concludes.

Research findings were presented at the 33rd European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress.

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