Mozart and epilepsy: the rhythm beats on

I can’t seem to get away from the theme of Mozart and epilepsy. When I first looked at this, in a blog post titled Mozart and seizures? The links between epilepsy and music, I took the topic rather lightly, more a subscript than a headline you may say. But I have since learnt to take the links between epilepsy and music more seriously. 

By Barbara KrafftThe Bridgeman Art Library, Object 574471, Public Domain, Link

The major trigger for my ‘road to Damascus’ conversion is a 2018 paper titled Study of the Mozart effect in children with epileptic electroencephalograms, published in the journal Seizure. The paper was an eye-opener because it gave a very helpful comprehensive context to the broader beneficial effect of music…not just in epilepsy, but in other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia and sleep disorders. The authors, Elyza Grylls and colleagues, started on the established premise that Mozart’s music has a beneficial effect on epilepsy. What they wanted to know was if other forms of music have a similar settling effect on epilepsy, or if only Mozart’s music carries the magic touch. The authors therefore played Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos in D major (K448) to 40 children with epilepsy who were undergoing an EEG (electroencephalogram, or electrical brain wave test). They then compared this with the effect of playing other types of music. Remarkably, they found that only Mozart’s Sonata led to a significant reduction in EEG epileptic discharges.

Public Domain, Link

The authors concluded that there was indeed an anti-epileptic effect of Mozart’s music, the so-called  ‘Mozart therapy’. But what is so special about K448? They speculate that it has to do with the structure of Mozart’s music, containing as it does, long periodicities. Interestingly, the music of Yanni, which is similarly structured, has somewhat a similar effect on brain wave activity. On the contrary, and sorry to Beethoven fans, Fur Elise doesn’t have this effect.

By W.J. Baker (held the expired copyright on the photograph) – Library of Congress[1]Contrairement à une erreur fréquemment répandue le buste a été réalisé par Hugo Hagen, non pas à partir du masque mortuaire mais, comme de nombreux autres, d’après le masque réalisé en 1812 par Franz Klein pour un buste qu’il devait réaliser ensuite., Public Domain, Link
So what does the structure of Mozart’s music do to the brain? One suggestion is that Mozart’s music enhances the body’s parasympathetic drive; this reduces the heart rate, and thereby inhibits the brain’s propensity to epileptic seizures. The suppression of this parasympathetic drive is of course the theory behind using vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to treat drug-resistant epilepsy. For more on VNS, see my previous blog, Vagus nerve stimulation: from neurology and beyond!

By Bionerd – MRI at Charite Mitte, Berlin (used with permission), CC BY 3.0, Link

You have surely wondered by now whether K448 is the only one of Mozart’s compositions to have an anti-epileptic effect. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t, because the authors of another interesting paper have. They titled their study, published in 2018, Mozart’s music in children with drug-refractory epileptic encephalopathies: comparison of two protocols. Published in the journal Epilepsy and Behaviour, the authors, Giangennaro Coppola and colleagues, compared the effect of K448 with a set of his other compositions. Intriguingly they found that the composition set actually had a greater effect in epilepsy than K448…by a wide margin of 70% to 20%! Furthermore, the set was better tolerated by the children; they were less irritable and had a better nighttime sleep quality.   

https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=76907&picture=dog-amp-child-painting

So, is it all rosy in the garden of music and the brain? No, it’s not! As every rose grows on a thorny tree, so do some forms of music trigger epileptic seizures. This so-called musicogenic epilepsy is well-recognised, and two recent culprits are the music of Sean Paul, discussed in the journal Scientific American , and the music of Ne Yo, explored by NME. Therefore you should craft your playlist wisely.

By CLASSICNEYOOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

So, is it time for neurologists to start prescribing music?

Or is it too much of a double-edged sword?

Music is #SimplyIrresistible. Luca Florio on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/elle_florio/29516744480

Autism and creativity

I find creativity an exciting topic; don’t we all wish we were that bit more insightful! I have already posted on creativity and mental health, and I have reviewed may books that explore innovation in my other blog, The Doctor’s Bookshelf. But I offer no apology for my obsession with the subject- what can better genius after all?

"Albert Einstein (Nobel)" by Unknown - Official 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics photograph. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Albert Einstein (Nobel)” by UnknownOfficial 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics photograph. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

This post was triggered by an article linking autism to creativity published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Health (yes, there is a journal such as this). The paper is titled The relationship between subthreshold autistic traits, ambiguous figure perception and divergent thinking. The gist of the paper is that people with autistic traits demonstrate divergent thinking, a cognitive process that leads to creative ideas. This theme is explored further in this blog post titled A Link Between Autism and Creativity. Another article from Frontiers of Human Neuroscience  suggests a link between autism and high verbal creativity.

Is the research borne out by real life experience? Perhaps. Wikipedia has a fairly long list of creative people with autism. A classic example is Stephen Wiltshire, the architectural artist whose visual recall lets him recreate extensive scenes- all from memory of brief observations.

"Stephen Wiltshire holding MBE" by Original uploader was Stwilts at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Stephen Wiltshire holding MBE” by Original uploader was Stwilts at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Stephen Wiltshire’s creative work is worth exploring and below is an example of his art.

"Big Ben on a rainy evening in London by Stephen Wiltshire MBE" by Stwilts at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Big Ben on a rainy evening in London by Stephen Wiltshire MBE” by Stwilts at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Wikipedia list is however dominated by artists and athletes. What of  scientific creativity? Indeed there are several examples of creative scientists with autism. Some of the big names here Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein who all demonstrate autistic traits.

"Sir Isaac Newton 1702" by Sir Godfrey Kneller - http://www.nd.edu/~dharley/HistIdeas/Newton.html (not actual)first uploaded in German Wikipedia by Dr. Manuel. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Sir Isaac Newton 1702” by Sir Godfrey Knellerhttp://www.nd.edu/~dharley/HistIdeas/Newton.html (not actual)first uploaded in German Wikipedia by Dr. Manuel. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Other speculative diagnoses of autism are related in this article in The Telegraph which says ‘Beethoven, Mozart, Hans Christian Andersen and Immanuel Kant have also received post mortem diagnoses of Asperger’s‘. Kant’s case is supported by his recognised obsession with routines. This theme is explored further in an article in New Scientist titled Scientists and autism: when geeks meet. Interesting!

Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen is a scientist at the forefront of studying autism and is the director of the Cambridge Autism Research Unit. His research suggests a close correlation between autism and scientific interest. He goes as far as to say that scientists are highly likely to have children with autism. Here is Baron-Cohen speaking a bit more on autism and scientific creativity.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/eEYy1GXaNNY” target=”_blank”>

This all shows how complex the brain really is and, more significantly, how important each of us is- no matter the make up of our brains.

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Mozart and seizures? The links between epilepsy and music

An odd connection you may say but here are quite a few things that link epilepsy with music. lepsy. The first is the therapeutic effect of on epilepsy. This has been termed ‘The Mozart Effect‘ based on studies which report that listening to Mozart reduces epileptic brain discharges.

This however seems at odds with the known fact that epilepsy may be triggered by music. Music is one of several triggers of epilepsy. People with this musicogenic epilepsy may become frightened of music, a concept called musicophobia. This article in Scientific American gives an example where the music of Sean Paul is the consistent trigger for someone’s seizures. In another anecdote from NME, a Ne Yo song is the culprit.

By CLASSICNEYO - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
By CLASSICNEYOOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Finally, music may be a manifestation of epilepsy. These present as musical hallucinations.

To explore these and other musical concepts and epilepsy further, check out Music and the neurologist: a historical perspective from the Annals of the New York Academy of Science.

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