I Can’t Get That Song Out of My Head
August 28, 2013

I Can’t Get That Song Out Of My Head

Ever had a song stuck in your head for days or even weeks? Sure, we all have, right? But have you ever had a song stuck in your head that you could not identify? One that you did not know at all, yet others around you knew it. I always know the songs, or at least have heard them, when they get stuck in my head. But that is not the case for everyone. Some people hear songs that they don’t recognize or flat out do not know. This interesting memory phenomenon is called musical hallucinations according to one Loyola Medicine article.

More specifically, the article explains what musical hallucinations are. “Musical hallucinations are a form of auditory hallucinations, in which patients hear songs, instrumental music or tunes, even though no such music is actually playing. Most patients realize they are hallucinating, and find the music intrusive and occasionally unpleasant. There is no cure.” These usually occur in older people who generally have other conditions that act as causes of or predispositions to musical hallucinations. These include hearing impairment, brain damage, epilepsy, intoxications, and psychiatric disorders like depression, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The two researchers who published about this disorder are Dr. Danilo Vitorovic and Dr. José Biller, both of Loyola University Medical Center. “Vitorovic is a former chief neurology resident and Biller is a professor and chair in the Department of Neurology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.” They described a specific case of medical hallucination in a woman, in her 60s who was trying to go to sleep one night. Then, without warning, she started to hear music in her head, almost as if a radio were playing, but only in her head.

According to her husband, she was singing and humming popular songs that he recognized, but she did not know them, had no memory of the songs. This begs the question of what exactly happens to forgotten memories? Do they simply disappear from our brains, replaced by some other information? Or is it simply not accessible to our conscious mind?

Vitorovic and Biller describe another person who suffers from these.

“a hearing-impaired patient who initially hallucinated music when she was trying to fall asleep. Within four months, she was hearing music all the time. For example, she would hear one song over and over for three weeks, then another song would begin playing. The volume never changed, and she was able to hear and follow conversations while hallucinating the music.

The patient was treated with carbamazepine, an anti-seizure drug, and experienced some improvement in her symptoms.

The unique feature of the patient was her ability to hum parts of some tunes and recall bits of lyrics from some songs that she did not even recognize. This raises the possibility that the songs were buried in her memory, but she could not access them except when she was hallucinating.”

Like the first woman described, this woman had no idea what the songs were she heard.

What an interesting topic and article. Visual hallucinations are what we usually hear about when considering hallucinations at all, but auditory hallucinations are another thing altogether. I can’t imagine how distracting it would be to constantly hear a song in your head, let alone have to deal with the added frustration of not knowing the song. That would be so vexing.

Music can be beneficial in many ways. We use it as therapy, to zone out, to inspire us, and just to enjoy. But if we had to struggle with a song we did not know on loop in our heads, wouldn’t that take away from the benefits? I know it would for me.

Both Vitorovic and Biller agree that more research needs to be done in this field. I look forward to learning more about it in the future.

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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