Since I teach flute students of all ages I felt it important to point out how practicing the flute can ward of dementia in the later days of life.
It may not cure dementia, but it can definitely help.
Many people across the world are suffering from dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors and Researchers are doing their best on trying to find a cure for these diseases. Many of the researchers are figuring out, now, although many musicians have known for years, that music can actually help these diseases! It may not cure it, but it can definitely help.
I’m not sure if Hollywood made the movie “The Notebook” worldwide or not, but one of the main characters is a woman that has one of these diseases. She can’t remember who her husband is, but she can remember how to play beautiful long pieces on the piano. This example is just more renown or popular that, I feel, most people have seen or can see the power of music in-even though it is fictional. They have to get their story and facts from somewhere, right?
Music, while physically playing or listening to, is so good for anyone no matter the age. It’s amazing! It gets more parts of the brain working and therefore, less time for your brain to stop. When you’re constantly exercising something, it works much better for much longer. Have you ever heard that children who play instruments do better in school on tests? Music, especially playing the flute, has helped the memory of children I know significantly because we have to memorize music which takes both the left and right sides of the brain to do.
I was recently giving a lesson to one of my online students who is into the second half of her life. (awesome) She told me one of the main reasons she was learning to play the flute was to keep her mind alert. Perfect!
The flute uses the left and right brain in complex patterns with every single skill. Neuro-pathways are created when learning to play the flute, and with repetitive practice those pathways are permanently ingrained like little ditches through a field. The more often we “run water” through those ditches; aka-practice those skills, then the deeper those ditches become making them totally accessible even in our old age. It sometimes just takes a prompting or two.
Children and adults who have been exposed to music are better at verbal memory versus visual memory. I’ve seen so many benefits to starting children to play music at a younger age than older. There are better opportunities for them younger (which is very good in the long run) and they are smarter and healthier, I believe, than they would be without learning to play an instrument.
Basically, at any age music is one of the keys to keeping a healthy brain. The flute in my opinion is especially awesome because we have to cross our left arm over our body center which sparks left-right brain activity into something like a fireworks show!
The best kind of music for people experiencing either dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, though, are pieces that are familiar and not anything new to them. Imagine being asked what a song was that was brand new on the radio. You wouldn’t know any of the lyrics or tune or anything! It might even freak you out a little bit if someone asked you to tell them who the composer/title was and asked you to sing it. I know that would make me kind of nervous. But if a song came on that you grew up listening to, you’d be able to say who the composer and title of it was and be so excited to start singing it before they even asked you to! I’d imagine this is very similar to what people with dementia or alzheimer’s feel like often.
The power of music is amazing. Who would have known that you can be warding off dementia with flute practice? Knowing what it can do for you makes the reward of listening and playing the flute even greater.
58 thoughts on “Warding Off Dementia With Flute Practice”
You’re perfectly right about playing a musical instrument helps you improve your mental functioning / slowing down aging process. Over all,
for me it boosts your endorphins, happy hormones in your brain like when you do workouts.I am 67 years old and I will also be learning to play my violin soon.Playing flute has been fun for me! I love it , my life is not complete without it!I feel confident playing in our church every Sunday which started this month. Flute music is also my food for my soul.
Thank you very much for these on line courses, Rebecca.God’s blessings and grace be with you always.
I also feel like music and flute playing feeds the soul and boosts those happy hormones. There are endless benefits to keeping your mind busy learning new things. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for posting/sharing this article. Since retiring from the education field 5 years ago, I’ve found occasionally my mind a bit “dull”. Playing the flute keeps me a bit “sharper.” Playing the flute is another tool in the aging box:)
Thank you for all your guidance,
Wow! What inspirational stories and Rebecca answered every one! (Do you ever sleep?) I am 66 and started fluting three years ago. My flute will go with me to my grave and I’ll STILL be playing. The LA Philharmonic is not exactly banging on my door…but that’s okay. I’m on the Gold Level Module 26 now. Love it. I’ve noticed a lot of you fluties are into languages too! Must be a link there! Anyway, very impressive. I wish I could find someone else in the Orange County area to duet with. Best to all, Nancy
Hi Nancy, it’s great to hear from you here today. Yes- let’s duet sometime. I like to frequent Disney with my family. 🙂 You’re doing amazing! You’re in just the right spot. Keep it up here. We love having you part of the group. Rebecca
Dearest Rebecca: Hi. Thank you so much for your article and providing this special heartwarming forum. All the posts are so inspiring and the struggle with memory and finger/eyes development are real challenges. I often wonder why I cannot memorize a score or keep my place reading music or why get so flustered instead of keeping a clear mind and staying calm to concentrate. I am determined to address these things and hope that approaching my 70s there may be a window that opens when all the efforts kick in. I love Pam’s message – it is inspiring that as a senior and head of a school she joined in with her young students to learn new instrument. I recently started to learn the bass clarinet and absolutely have found an affinity with it. It is actually helping me with my flute playing and memorizing scales and short written songs. I have always thrived on improvising quickly finding the right notes that fit. But now I am starting to remember the scales in my mind and the fingering relating to the actual name of the note on both instruments. It’s been a long road. There is still so much to learn and to be able to actually do. Music has been a life saver for me and has given me the venue in which to interact with people in a creative, spiritual and positive way. As a behind the scenes person, being out there actively participating is a major step to a more fuller life!! !! Thank you for your guidance and step by step instructions on how to obtain these goals. Love. Mary
Yes! What you said is so great here, Mary. Thank you for being here and participating in a big way. 🙂 -Rebecca
Loved this article. Not news exactly (I read a lot of articles on aging, being 70) but good to hear another voice encouraging us “mature” adults to keep working at things that provide stimulus, joy and discipline. Thanks!
Yes Margaret, I agree – we do need to keep working on our minds and bodies. Keeps fun and intrigue in our lives also. 🙂 Thanks for the comment. ~Rebecca
I started a new adventure in art and music just a short while ago and it keeps me young and happy and I am learning a lot about myself and I am over a half century old lol
So, can’t say what it does for the brain but it definitely keeps me charged up and full of life !
Hi Lisa, you’re right that learning and improving in music and art keeps the brain and body full of life. Glad you’re here! ~Rebecca
Playing the flute is a mental and physical exercise. It’s good for you! Not to mention the feeling of accomplishment. There is a video on YouTube of an awesome flutist named Helena Schulthess playing J.S. Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D. This lady is awesome! The emotion on her face at the end is obvious. With the help of a great teacher like you Rebecca, and lots of practice I hope someday to play something this beautiful!!
Thanks for all you do!!
You’re right, Mary. Playing the flute is verrrry mental (and physical). I love the feeling of accomplishment also. You most definitely will get ‘there’. 🙂 ~Rebecca
Yes, Rebecca–THE POWER OF MUSIC IS AMAZING!
I’M ALSO AT THE 2ND HALF OF MY LIFE and with the anguish back flowing from years past, being a caregiver myself now and experiencing depression on and off I have
been counselled, have read and have come to know that “THE POWER OF MUSIC IS AMAZING!”
I want to get started with my lessons,(and I will), on a committed basis soon–for now, I cherish your emails and IT WON’T BE LONG!
Don’t give up on me!
Hi Vivienne, we’re always happy to have you here learning with us. You’re right – Music is one of the most powerful mediums on earth! ~Rebecca
Hi Rebecca! I am in your gold lessons, right around module 40. As a Christ follower and one who does not have a particularly great singing voice, the flute allows me to play hymns and enter into worship in an amazing way. It is by far my favorite part of flute playing!
I totally agree, Sue. It’s awesome to be able to share music and the spirit. 🙂 ~Rebecca
Beautiful. I agree and as a teacher I really do experience that children who play music instruments do very good especially with maths.
Agreed, Agreed Hannelie. Love all you students – of all ages. 🙂 ~Rebecca
It’s great to know that people of all ages try their hands at playing the flute which is indeed a really beautiful instrument and the music very soothing. It is also interesting to know that it helps people with dementia. My memory is ok, however, I feel this will help me as I grow older.I know it’s a great brain exercise to learn to play something which demands much of our concentration and efforts. Thanks for your article and much valued informations.
Hi Vikeyie, you’re so right. I’m in my 40’s and I know that I struggled with ‘baby-mush-brain’ as I was raising my babies the last couple of decades. If it weren’t for music and all I do daily, I think my mind would be much softer than it is. I’m also always studying a language as well. It keeps me on my toes. Thanks for your comment. ~Rebecca
I wholly agree with this article!! I am a homeschooling mom of 5 who just started learning flute 5 months ago. Love that I found your website!! 🙂 I have been interested in the “music helps learning” idea since my 3rd child struggled in kindergarten!! He had a really hard time learning to read, and struggled through school until he started taking piano lessons in 3rd grade. I saw a dramatic change (for the better) in his learning after his music lessons started and since then am a firm believer in the part that music plays in many areas of our lives. Thanks for this article!!
Hi Kristen, thanks for the comment. I totally get it. I have seen the difference in many, many children myself! Music lessons (properly taught and executed) are a #1 tool for the brain. 🙂 ~Rebecca
I started the flute at 68 because I was in a new school (as Head of School) and wanted to experience what we ask kids to do everyday- try something new and hard where mistakes are public- as when I was a kid we had to climb the rope in gym in front of our peers and say that French sentence or put a math problem on the board or read aloud in class…- elementary school learning is all public and mistakes are guaranteed…SO I decided to show kids I could do that too- they are fascinated that an adult can be a beginner. That Hot Cross Buns an be hard for a grownup…I played the first year in the fourth grade band and now in year three I am (at 71) promoted the 7/8 grade band! Ironically the time they were the most excited about a grownup in their band was when I had to tell the teacher I had forgotten my flute and could not play that day. The kids awere amazed that an adult could forget her flute- they just could not believe it…much greater impression than when I made a timing or tone mistake in the group… ( I’ve increased all lower school music to 3x per week because the brain needs music and the fourth grade are now required to play in the band…all good. Thanks for this article. Pam
Hi Pamela, this is the best story ever. And, it’s such an important concept you are showing those kids. They’ll be learners for life because of you, I’m positive. This makes me so happy. I hope you’re okay with me sharing your story with the other adult learners here at Learn Flute Online. You ARE AWESOME. And, I hope I see you in a lesson here soon. 🙂 ~Rebecca
I can heartily support the previous comments. I’m 86 and started to learn flute three months ago. My son says (with a grin) that I’m so full of hot air that playing the flute should be a breeze. Well, no breeze but a wonderful challenge — particularly remembering the fingering from one day to the next. Sometimes I feel like running outside and grabbing the first person I see and yelling, “I did it! I found high C!” I love having something I can pick up and work on anytime and each small improvement is so satisfying.
Hi Margo! We’re so excited you’re here learning how to play the flute. I especially love your post here. You have the perfect mindset to enjoy this new skill. We all wish you luck, and hope to see you inside the membership area in a learning module soon. 🙂 ~Rebecca
I work at a school and started the flute when I was 69-I wanted to recreate the experience we ask youngsters to do all the time- try something new and hard ad in public- like climbing the rope in gym, or doing a math problem n the board. So I started..and got into the fourth-grade band, This year I also got into the 7/8 grade band! I take lessons each week from a local excellent flutist and do your gold on the side- I’m 71 now and getting better and better. I love to practice; it is so hard for me that my mind is completely engaged and cannot wander to stuff at work or in the families…I’m completely absorbed and that is relaxing! Cheers.
Oh this is exciting! I’ve had several people ask me if they are allowed to play in a school band (in their post-school years)… I told them that they should definitely ask. What fun for you! We’re glad you’re here learning. ~Rebecca
does this work the same way with piano?
Yes Clare, music practice definitely is one of those connections that our brain needs to stay alert and smart throughout the years. Have you seen “The Notebook”? ~Rebecca
I started playing piano at 7, took up clarinet at 14, saxophone at 15, and now, at 60, am learning flute. I play in local jazz orchestras where doubling is important.
As far as mental health, we lost our beautiful son to cancer last year after a 5 month, devastating battle. My music has helped me to go on.
Hi Lynne, I appreciate you sharing this. What a beautiful thing for you to be able to use music as your emotional health and release. You’re in a great place here learning the flute. Wonderful!
Excellent article! .. and, yes. Music opens a multitude of doors to the soul. Usually, I tend to be more than a little irreverent. But, let me set that aside for a few moments.. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing more than my share of “musical miracles.” I’ve seem an elderly woman so crippled with arthritis she could barely hold a fork to eat.. place her at a piano keyboard, and her love of music frees those fingers to perform at a level one would easily deem “impossible.” Another friend who lived years past his six month death sentence from cancer.. when asked, he would always reply, “It’s the music.. it keeps me feeling alive.” In my own life, I’ve overcome a massive mental breakdown, and regular bouts with severe depression.. all by countering it with time spent with my horse, and my flute.. and sometimes, both at the same time. 🙂 Music trumps “impossible,” always. .. because it touches all of us at a level so deep, it becomes weaved into our very being. .. and that, is the miracle of music. 🙂
That said, thanks again! Terrific article! Now let me get my Hacker hat back on.. LOL .. a few minutes to practice before bed. 🙂 Take care!
I agree whole-heartedly Jim. Keep it up- music is a wonderful avenue for all walks of life. 🙂 Rebecca
Great article! Shaking up the trodden-path and learning something new and challenging definitely keeps this 60 year old brain developing. Thank you Rebecca!
Hi I keep busy playing with our Kiwanis Community Band. There is no doubt that flute playing is keeping my 80 yr old brain active. My playing is improving. We are very busy preparing for our summer marching and outdoor playing. I am not getting at my lessons as much as I would like, but they are helping me to continually grow.
Marg, you’re my hero! I’m so happy you are learning and having fun playing with your group. Keep it up!
Hi Rebecca – at 71 I could say that I am living on borrowed time! As a starting flute student (4 months yesterday) I am really heartened by your latest message, and perhaps I am starting just in time! Anyway, your lessons are a great experience, and one of these days, when my tone really improves, I’ll feel competent enough to play for you. I have watched videos of the US Army Field Band, Jennifer Cluff and James Galway in addition to your Gold Lessons, and am starting to feel just a teeny bit a part of the flute community. Thanks for your teaching talent! Martin
Good to have you on board mate. I fully endorse the comments in Rebecca’s article Except the comment about a student in the second half of her life. Like you I am 71 and don’t accept that I have reached half way yet. The film which Rebecca cited is a gorgeous film but an alternative film on the same theme is the British made “Quartet”. There is an old adage if you don’t use it, you lose it. Playing music helps make sure that you don’t lose it.
You’re right, Michael. The ‘second half’ of anyone’s life could be at any age. It’s good that we have something we can use to keep alert and smart. Carry on! 🙂 ~Rebecca
This email was really amazing, I never knew music could do something like that!
True. True. I, personally look forward to the coming years as a challenge to see if I can keep myself “intact”. 🙂 ~ Rebecca
This is a wonderful email! I’m so glad I took the time to read it! 🙂
And, I’m glad you did! I find it all very interesting as well. ~ Rebecca
I have always wanted to learn the flute after a teacher showed the class her flute and gave me the opportunity to try and play, to her and the rest of the class’s surprise I was able to get a note. I was 5 years old and the desire to learn to play has never left me. Now I’m 50 and having been given an old, previously loved, slightly dented, toot stick. I now have the opportunity.
The only thing standing in my way from obtaining your gold lessons is funds. As a invalided Royal Navy Veteran raising a family all funds go towards them. To keep myself from going cabin crazy I volunteer at local hospitals ferrying patients to and from hospital. in between runs I try to learn tottering. So I’m saving and when I have saved with out something happening than needs the cash more than I do I will buy the gold lessons, until then its by book.
This is so great, Bob. We can’t wait for you to join us! You have a really great story. 🙂 ~ Rebecca
Thanks as always for your mail. THIS is good for your brain nails it ! In support of your assertions you may want to read (if you haven’t already) This is Your Brain On Music (D. Letvin) and Musicophilia (O. Sacks). Both authors are neurobiologists who present some of the latest findings on the power of music with special focus on disabling brain problems. Happy reading !
From a student today via email:
“This was an interesting email for me. I am 69 and I started learning the flute because my partner thought it would be good for my brain as I had some cognitive problems, especially retaining new information and word finding difficulties. I played piano when I was young but could no longer read and mentally process more than one line of notes so thought the flute might be solution. It has been a challenge to learn, requiring much repetition and I have felt a lot of frustration at times because I tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. The interesting thing is that my memory is improving, slowly, but it is improving. I am also doing finger exercises to try to increase my dexterity but also to create new neural pathways. I will never be a great flute player but I am enjoying the challenge and your lessons have been a key part of the improvement I am enjoying. Thank you.”
I have enjoyed learning the flute. You have made it easy and fun.Your method of teaching is the best.Iam87 and legally blind but I am determined to be sucessul at the flute. Thank uoi so much.
I REALLY want to help you succeed, Bob. I used to dream of having studios FILLED with sight impaired students. Thanks for helping out my dreams. Let me know what else I can help you with. 🙂 ~ Rebecca
thjis is so true I am glad I picked the flute and you my taacher
Rebecca; There is something that I hope you can help me with To read your emails and the dpf files or other things i magnify the computer 300%. Can you direct me to a website where I can get hymns in large print? By the way I am planing on playing at a singspiration at church soon and you have made it possible. Thanks Bob
Bob, I am SO excited that you are playing at the singspiration! Congratulations! I have a hymns course you’re going to LOVE! Details in email soon… Rebecca p.s. good idea to magnify your screen.
Hi, Rebecca! I DID ENJOY your text! As you know, I have signed for your newsletter and flute lessons and I just LOVE both! By the way, I have completed 80 years last May, but I feel no more than … let’s say 40! I use to say to my two sisters that your AGE is in your MIND (or almost so ) and I DO BELIEVE IT! Of course I have some physical limitations (not many, thanks GOD) but I have a very good memory and good health. I am ALWAYS trying to LEARN NEW THINGS ( I am studying Chinese, German, Swedish and Russian, by now), to LEARN NEW TECHNICS (drawing, painting, playing musical instruments, and so on). I DO BELIEVE if you keep your mind WORKING you also keep your mind HEALTHIER! THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR MESSAGE! Best regards, Sylvio.
You’re right, Sylvio; age is in your mind. I’m impressed that you’ve always kept yourself a life-long learner. Amazing!!! I want to be just like you. ~Rebecca
Can you email me a PDF copy of this post? I take care of my parents who are 86 and 87 and both have dementia. I have noticed that their lifestyle of poor eating habits, no exercise and not managing stress have most likely contributed. Mom can still play the keyboard like a champ though and the only thing that calms dad down is music.
I have been doing things to help my own mind not end up the same way as mom and dad. One of the things I did a few months ago was take up flute lessons. I had played sax in high school, but it’s been a long time since playing an instrument.
I am involved in a lot of dementia, caregiver support groups. I also work to teach people how to help their brain become stronger to make them less susceptible to dementia.
I would definitely like to share this in some of my teachings with your permission.
Hi AnneMarie, I’m so glad your dad calms when he hears the music. It’s so great that you are using music to keep your mind nimble as well. Music therapy is real. You are welcome to share this post as many time as you’d like. You also can print it, no problem. I’m proud of you for using the power of music to help others. ~Rebecca