Musical Hallucinations: The Sounds of Silence?

Steven P. Wengel, William J. Burke, Dawn Holemon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Hallucinations may occur in any sensory modality. Auditory hallucinations, usually ascribed to psychiatric illness, take various forms including the perception of voices, cries, noises, or rarely, music. Formed musical hallucinations, (ie, the perception of either vocal or instrumental melodies), reported in the English literature to date have typically been associated with marked hearing loss, advanced age (average 67.8 years), female sex (71%), lack of response to treatment, and general lack of associated psychopathology. We have collected data on seven additional patients with musical hallucinations. The average age of these patients was 72.9 years; all were women. Six had significant hearing problems. All reported onset of musical hallucinations after the age of 60. Interestingly, all seven had major psychiatric illnesses. Four had major depression, two had late‐onset schizophrenia, and one had multi‐infarct dementia. Of the five who had CT scans, one was normal and the rest demonstrated varying degrees of brain pathology. Neuroleptics were used with varying results in three cases; antidepressants were used in two depressed patients and were temporally related to the onset of musical hallucinations in one patient. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was very effective in treating depression and musical hallucinations in the three patients for whom it was used, usually providing relief from hallucinations after only two treatments. Our collection of cases demonstrates that musical hallucinations can occur in association with psychiatric illness, and perhaps unlike the hallucinations associated with isolated hearing loss, may respond to conventional treatments for the underlying psychiatric disorder. Hearing loss is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for the occurrence of musical hallucinations. 1989 The American Geriatrics Society

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-166
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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