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Music and Epilepsy

Music and Epilepsy

New study results from researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center suggest that listening to music may help to reduce the risk of seizures in people with epilepsy. The researchers took electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings of the brains of people with and without epilepsy while they were listening to silence and when they were listening to music.

The findings showed that when the people with epilepsy were listening to segments of music from Mozart and John Coltrane their brainwave activity significantly increased. However, even though the electrical activity increased (which usually makes it more likely that a person with epilepsy could have seizures), the brainwave activity in people with epilepsy tended to synchronize more with the music, especially in the temporal lobe, than in people without epilepsy. 

The researchers hypothesize that when brainwaves synchronize with music it could reduce dysfunctional synchronization in the temporal lobe. This could potentially reduce the risk of seizure activity. As well, since music is often used by people to relax and help reduce stress, this could also reduce seizure activity since stress could trigger seizures.  Click here to read more about these findings.

With these new study results being published, it's a great time to learn about some of notable musicians with epilepsy. Perhaps having epilepsy contributed to their musical talents! 

Frederic Chopin: 19th century French-Polish composer and piano virtuoso

This prolific musician and composer was known for writing passionate pieces on the piano. However, Chopin suffered from many health problems. This included frequent brief hallucinations and episodes of confusion and unresponsiveness. 

Research published in a 2011 issue of the journal  Medical Humanities proposed that these episodes were symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy. This type of epilepsy can produce seizures that involve brief visual hallucinations, as well as loss of speech and awareness of surroundings.

During a performance in 1848 he suddenly stopped in the middle of a piece and left the stage without explanation. Chopin later told a friend that this was due to a hallucination in which he saw creatures emerging from the piano. At this time his behaviours and symptoms were attributed to his creative genius.

The research authors acknowledged that it is difficult to make a definitive diagnosis, but commented: "A condition such as that described in this article could easily have been overlooked by Chopin's doctors," adding that there was limited understanding of epilepsy at that time.

Susan Boyle: Scottish singer and former Britain’s Got Talent contestant

Susan Boyle came to international public attention when she appeared as a contestant on the TV program Britain's Got Talent in 2009, singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables.

Within nine days of the audition, videos of Boyle from the show and various interviews were watched over 100 million times. In December 2009 her performance was the most watched YouTube video of the year with over 120 million viewings.

In a 2011 interview she revealed she had epilepsy as a child. Boyle told the  Daily Mail's Weekend magazine: “I was protected in cotton wool. They [her parents] thought they were doing the right thing. They called me touchy. At school I used to faint a lot. It is something I've never talked about. I had epilepsy.”

Her first album was released in November 2009 and debuted as the number one best-selling album on charts around the world. It remains the best-selling debut album of all time in the UK.

DJ Hapa: A DJ and Scratch DJ Academy director

A DJ for over 16 years, Hapa started out his craft as a child by playing around with his parents records and mixing melodies from them using blank tapes. From his early beginnings his skills have progressed into making him a prominent force in the DJ world.

He has performed not just in nightclubs, but for companies and events such as Microsoft, ESPN, Red Bull, the Rose Bowl, NBA All-Star games, W Hotels, and Michael Jordan’s Celebrity Golf Tournament.

Hapa is currently the National Brand Director for the prestigious  Scratch DJ Academy (a company that is considered to be a leader in DJ education.) He is also currently working with engineers to develop QnQ, a large format, transparent, multi-touch DJ console.

He has been upfront about his experiences with epilepsy and is a spokesperson for the  Epilepsy Foundation.

These are some of his experiences:

“I was an athlete in high school with a 4.2 GPA, and then all of a sudden this thing happens. I wake up in the middle of the night on the floor in my room. I had no idea how it happened. The next night, the same thing. I was rushed to the hospital and the doctors told me I had epilepsy.”

“One doctor in San Francisco told me that someone with my condition shouldn’t go to college. I’m 18 at this point and I decided I was going to do it anyway. I can’t thank my parents enough for supporting me. I created this unreal work ethic and drive and passion. I don’t think I’d be nearly as successful if it weren’t for my epilepsy.”

Watch an epilepsy awareness video that he appeared in.


Neil Young: Canadian singer and guitarist

This singer-songwriter is seen as being one of the most respected and prolific rock/folk guitarists of the late 20th century. Raised in Canada, he has become well-known as a guitarist and vocalist not only for his solo work, but also for various bands including Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Crazy Horse.

Young has been inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has also been awarded the Order of Manitoba and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

He is also known as being an outspoken advocate for various environmental and social issues. In 1986, he helped found a school for children with disabilities.

Young has three children. His daughter like himself, has epilepsy. His epilepsy started in his early 20's, just as he was first rising to fame. He has since learned to suppress his seizures. He stated "once you start controlling that, then you control all kinds of things," and "but it used to happen all the time back then, because I was running hot."

Despite having epilepsy, debilitating back problems, and a brain aneurysm, he still manages to create inspirational songs and express his political views through his music.


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