Nearly 44 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s with no known cure for the disease (Alzheimer’s Disease International). At this time there are only prevention and coping methods.
Research done by the Alzheimer’s Association has proven that music improves memory and taps deep into memories not lost to dementia. Personalized music helps these people to feel themselves again by awakening memories, stimulating cognitive function, and facilitating positive interaction.
We want to further develop and design a human-centered digital music system for improving the quality of life and relationships of Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. Our aim is to change the situation in which the patient is isolated and alone to become "alive inside" through reminding them of their memories and relationships.
“Most people associate music with important events and a wide array of emotions. The connection can be so strong that hearing a tune long after the occurrence evokes a memory of it.”
— Alzheimer's Foundation of America
This project was initially inspired by “Alive Inside”, a documentary directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, that demonstrates the profound impact music has on Alzheimer’s patients. Then through further research and discussions with a cognitive neuroscientist we saw an opportunity to translate our findings into designing a human-centered music platform that could be used by patients and caregivers.
Currently non-profit organizations studying the benefits of music for Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges recommend “simple to use” digital music players and radios that have been designed with a very minimal interface and function. For example, “Music & Memory” is an organization that collects and distributes used iPods, then trains nursing home staff and caregivers how to create and provide personalized playlists to their patients. We are very inspired by their efforts to make this form of personalized therapeutic music a standard of care throughout the healthcare industry, however we have another approach.
There is great potential for a music system designed specifically for our user group, since most existing digital music players provided to patients have not been designed for them. We find the current products and services to be inadequate in both form and function. To overcome this we must thoroughly understand the needs and desires of both the patient and their loved ones.
During visits, if the individual with Alzheimer's does not recognize a family member nor remember their relationship to them, the idea is to try using a song or a familiar sound when a face is not enough. The song would be from a memory they shared, for instance a wedding song for a spouse, a favourite concert jam between friends, or a loved lullaby for grandchildren. They might have trouble recalling details and names but a song has the ability to bring back memories of when it was previously heard, as long as it played a significant role in the event. If this doesn’t work, then there is still their favourite music playing to foster a calm and focused visit. And if it does work? Then it could be worthwhile forming these music - memory associations at the earliest stage of dementia to enforce a strong connection between the sound triggers and visuals.
The combination of the device and the app can enhance the contact between the patient and their loved ones and caregiver, as well as improve the mood of the patient and help them to remember and interact with others. For the family and other caregivers the app offers a psychological help, showing that they are not alone, and improves the quality of their interactions by providing a reminder of the person they loved and still love.
Deeply personal music is most effective as music therapy therefore it is crucial to create a database where the songs and memories are stored. It not only provides the database for the user, but it also enables loved ones to keep in contact with the patient and feel involved and receive information on the well being of the patient. It allows them to send voice messages to the user along with songs, and also helps the caregivers to recreate history with the user, interact with each other, and share memories.
Keeping in mind that the disease is progressive, we imagine that the mobile application may be used on it’s own as a music player in the early stages. Then should conditions worsen, the physical device can intervene as a companion when simplicity, ergonomics, and usability play a more important role.
In 2014, over 15 million family members and friends in America provided over 17 billion hours of unpaid care to those suffering from Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s Association) and the people we talked to were eager to try using music for memory. The nursing homes also could benefit from this service, because it allows them to operate smoother with a very personalized music therapy involving the family and friends in a more effective way. It is important for them to get as much help as possible, therefore Remind focuses on the patient as well as on the people around them and their interaction with each other.
The music player charging and glowing to invite Birgitta to play her music:
Since we first shared this project online, we have received numerous messages and emails from people telling us about their struggles with their grandparent/ parent/ friend and asking where and when they can get a Remind music player. They all seem eager to try it with their care-recipient but I regretfully continue to respond to them that it is just a prototype and student project. Sooner than later we want to tell them that it is ready.
Now we are more experienced designers than when we kicked off this project as students. And now we know what needs to be done before talking production, thanks to input from the many people that have contributed their feedback.
Other inspiration mentioned:
Alive Inside http://www.aliveinside.us/
Music and Memory https://musicandmemory.org/