Sonata for two hemispheres

Scientists are discovering the unexpected potential of music and the way that it acts on the brain

When you say something like “I love chocolate cake,” what you mean is “I enjoy eating chocolate cake”. If an activity makes you feel happy, dopamine, a major neurotransmitter involved in movement and memory, will be released in the brain. This phenomenon is due a brain mechanism known as the ‘reward system’. Researchers from the University of Montreal (2011) found that music activates this mental process. By activating it, it liberates some dopamine.

Photo credit: Julie Falk

Photo credit: Julie Falk

In the neurodegenerative disease Parkinson’s disease, patients have difficulty creating fluid movements. The reason lies in the brain; dopamine is lacking in people with Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, despite these amazing discoveries, music doesn’t stimulate cerebral plasticity enough to cure patients with Parkinson’s disease.

More hope is seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Studies revealed that patients who often listened to the same melody managed to learn and remember it few weeks after. Regrettably, music can’t bring their memories back, but studies like this show that Alzheimer’s still have the capacity to learn.

It is commonly thought that Mozart is beneficial to learning in some way. The “Mozart Effect” is the theory that listening to the piece Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos in D major (K448) would improve our brain ability, especially in epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a brain disease which is caused by an excessive neuronal activity in the brain. A study conducted in Taiwan in 2011 with children having difficulties in controlling seizures found that listening this piece of Mozart once a day before sleeping during six months could highly reduce the number of seizures. In some cases, children were seizure-free at the end of the study.

Music seems to offer wonderful opportunities, but more studies need to be conducted before it can be considered as a real treatment for diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.

For now, at the very least, music is a way to help patients to feel better, and perhaps to bring them some hope.


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