Composer Frederic Chopin’s hallucinations may be linked to epilepsy

January 25th, 2011 - 12:49 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 25 (ANI): Polish composer Frederic Chopin, who was hounded by hallucinations during his relatively short life, probably had epilepsy, according to a new study.

Chopin, who was plagued by poor health throughout his life, died in 1849 at the age of 39 as a result of chronic lung disease, which has recently been attributed to cystic fibrosis, based on the composer’s family history.

The researchers said that while his well-documented bouts of melancholy have been attributed to bipolar disorder or clinical depression, the hallucinatory episodes to which he was also prone have tended to be overlooked.

They based their opinions on Chopin’s own description of his hallucinatory episodes and accounts of his life by friends and pupils.

In her memoirs, George Sand recalls various times when the composer experienced visual hallucinations, including a trip to a monastery that was ‘full of terrors and ghosts for him’.

In a letter written to the daughter of Sand, Chopin describes a moment during a performance of his Sonata in England in 1848 at a private salon, when he saw creatures emerging from his piano which forced him to leave the room to recover himself.

He also described a ‘cohort of phantoms’ in 1844.

Hallucinations are a symptom of several psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and dissociative states but usually take the form of voices, said the researchers.

The most likely explanation for Chopin’s visions, according to the researchers, is a type of epilepsy called temporal lobe epilepsy as it can produce complex visual hallucinations, which are usually brief, fragmentary and stereotyped.

They acknowledged that without the aid of modern day tests, it is difficult to make a definitive diagnosis.

But they said that Chopin’s illness could easily have been overlooked by his doctors because there was limited understanding of epilepsy at that time.The study is published online in Medical Humanities. (ANI)

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