Dementia-friendly music player

Ross Porter created this simple-to-operate music player for people living with with memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s, who may find it hard to operate more modern stereo systems. Analogue is king here, with one knob to control the volume and another to change the song. No more frills, and no fancy extra buttons, sliders, or lights — just a clean interface reminiscent of an old-style radio.

Dementia Friendly Music player front
Easy to use, lovely to look at

I found this project on Their goal is to achieve inclusiveness for people with disabilities by leveraging their community of makers, disability professionals, and volunteers to develop affordable open source technology.

Musical memories

The documentary Alive Inside inspired this build. It highlights “the profound joy that music can bring to people with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other memory loss related disabilities.”

Watch the trailer for Alive Inside

I certainly remember the effect music had on the residents at the care home I worked in during my university holidays. Older people who were struggling with the names of close family members, or feeling unsure where they were despite having lived there for several years, came alive when we played famous songs from their era. They could recall lyrics to a whole song, word for word, and their whole faces and posture changed for the better when they heard a much-loved tune. Music seemed to be stashed safely away at the back of their brains, bringing out a part of themselves that they had forgotten and that we thought no longer existed. They’re the reason I appreciate the likes of Glenn Miller to this day. Chattanooga Choo Choo is a banger and I won’t hear otherwise.

Dementia Friendly Music player rear
Simple, sleek, retro design

Choose your fighter

You have a few options if you want to build your own dementia-friendly music player: a ready-made set of bamboo cut-out parts you can fit together, or a cheaper version that you can 3D-print yourself. There’s also a Deluxe model in cherry wood. The instructions are brilliantly straightforward, and while it’s definitely not a beginner’s project and will take a few hours to complete, Ross has made it as easy as possible.

Music is loaded on a USB memory stick which is then plugged into the player. The volume knob powers the player on and also adjusts the volume. The song knob skips to the next song or back to the previous one.

Ross’s model uses a Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+, and it’s designed to be used with either headphones or external powered speakers.

What would you load up to listen to?

I pity my residential home mates having to listen to the mix of early 2000s emo and 1980s hair metal bands that I’d load up on this music player. It would be lovely, though, to hear some stories of older people you know being comforted by music in the comments section.

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