Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Facts on Hearing Disorder Are Music to Many Ears

DEAR ABBY: Several years ago, you printed several letters concerning older people who had heard music inside their heads. I would appreciate any information you can give me, because my 92-year-old mother is experiencing those symptoms and needs reassurance that she is not "going crazy."

Thank you for your assistance in this matter, and for many years of unadulterated information and pleasure. -- JUDITH PHILLIPS, R.N., CANYON, TEXAS

DEAR JUDITH: That problem continues to surface from time to time, and when I explain that it is not unusual, readers are greatly relieved to learn that they are not alone. Here they are again:

DEAR ABBY: Thank you for printing those letters from people who keep hearing music in their heads. I am one. I am now 76, and never told others because I was afraid of what they might think. I have been a nurse for more than 50 years and had never heard of this condition. I feared that maybe I was getting senile. I was truly relieved after reading in your column that many others had the same experience.

During my waking hours, I hear hymns and waltzes. All the waltzes I loved to dance to keep drifting through my mind. Now I can tell my doctor about it and not be afraid that he will look at me and think, "Poor soul. She is really failing!" -- EMILIE IN BUCKS COUNTY

DEAR EMILIE: You would not believe the number of letters from readers who had also been hearing things and doubted their sanity. One man said he nearly went crazy because he heard bees buzzing continually in one ear -- night and day. Another said he heard constant crackling sounds, like bacon frying. A woman heard the "chirping" of crickets. Still another said it sounded like a freight train was roaring through her head. All feared they were going mad.

The sounds are due to a condition called "tinnitus," but the musical hallucinations are yet another matter. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: It was interesting seeing all the letters sent to you by people with musical hallucinations.

The two cases I describe in my book, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," were rather rare and special examples of musical epilepsy associated with damage to the brain. But musical hallucinations are relatively common, especially in older people, and though they should be checked out, nearly always turn out to be benign -- a nuisance, but not necessarily a sign of neurological disease. Readers should be assured about this. -- OLIVER SACKS, M.D., PROFESSOR OF NEUROLOGY, ALBERT EINSTEIN COLLEGE OF MEDICINE, BRONX, N.Y.