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Mozart and seizures: One small trial shows promise

Listening to Mozart before bed reduced the frequency of seizure recurrence in children in a recent trial.
Listening to Mozart before bed reduced the frequency of seizure recurrence in children in a recent trial.
Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images

According to the Mayo Clinic, more than 300,000 American children have epilepsy; for 90,000 of them, these seizures are "intractable" -- no treatment has worked to manage them. Mayo expert Dr. Elaine Wirrell notes that children with epilepsy also have higher rates of psychological problems such as anxiety and mood disorders. Now, new research from Taiwan may bring hope -- and help -- to some of these children.

In an article published in the current issue of BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers from two pediatric hospitals in Taiwan describe their work with children who had suffered one unprovoked seizure. The researchers were able to gather data on 22 experimental group children, who listened to Mozart's K. 448 (a piano sonata) before bedtime for six months, and 24 control group children, who did not. Of the Mozart listeners, 37.2 percent had another seizure during the two-year follow-up period; among the non-Mozart listeners, more than twice that number (76.8 percent) had another seizure during the follow-up period.

The researchers note that they were drawn to Mozart K. 448 because of its already-documented association with diminished tinnitus intensity, improved paper-folding and cutting skills among the cognitively disabled, and increased weight gain among premature infants. They also remark that their previous research has indicated a beneficial anti-seizure effect of another piano sonata, Mozart K. 545. It is also interesting to note that although the work by Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky in the early 1990s has been questioned in the intervening years, the initial findings by these three researchers at UC-Irvine indicated that listening to Mozart increased performance on tasks included in the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.

Although the number of children involved in the Taiwanese study is small, the researchers are optimistic about audiotherapy as an avenue for future research. They assert, "The results highlight that Mozart K. 448 listening is a promising alternative treatment in patients with first unprovoked seizures and abnormal EEGs. More investigations should be performed to substantiate the effects of music on first unprovoked seizures."