Designing new musical technologies for older adults' wellbeing
How can technologies assist us to age creatively?
When living with dementia, older adults value non-pharmacological interventions which help them continue doing activities they enjoy, things that hold their interest, as well as tasks that support communication with others and keeping hold of their identity. Participating in music can provide a path to achieving these outcomes, but activities are often limited by traditional tools and devices.
Collaborating with researchers across music, psychology and engineering, this UKRI FLF funded research project investigates how we can harness emerging technologies to boost opportunities for older adults living with dementia and their carers to interact with music, whether it be listening to music, creating playlists, singing, songwriting, or playing a musical instrument.
Over the next four years (2021-2025), the team will lead various research activities to:
evidence the needs, rewards and barriers for older adults with cognitive impairments and their carers in using musical interfaces
develop tools and technologies to facilitate music interaction
analyse how these interfaces can be optimised for maximum usage and enjoyment, sense of wellbeing, agency, and social integration.
Interacting with music in new (and old) ways
As part of our project, we have been developing new and adapting existing devices to allow opportunities for agency, creativity, and relationality in living with dementia. We aim to do this in collaboration with people living with dementia both in the community and those who live in residential care. Please also see our recent Futurum Careers article where we explain how we do this out in the community, and see some of the examples below of open events we've held at the University.
The use of technology for the arts in general
What technologies are being developed for people living with dementia to engage with the arts? This article details our scoping review that draws together recent advances in technologies for the creative arts for people living with dementia.
How have arts workers and organisations delivered digitally to people living with dementia during COVID-19? This article is currently under review and details the massive efforts undertaken by several arts workers and organisations to convert face to face arts activities online during the pandemic.
Design recommendations & The Slider Box
Here we detail our five design recommendations for new music interaction tools for living with dementia. These have been developed working in consultation with numerous research advisory groups, our local DEEP group, and attendees and volunteers at local memory cafes across Sheffield.
Introducing the Slider Box: This is a mixing desk analogy that allows users to either listen to different tracks, mix stems of familiar music, or even create their own.
Music Memory Makers Duet System
The other device we use frequently in our community workshops is the music memory makers duet system. These boxes are analogies of the mechanical music box, using a "pepper grinder" action to continuously control the music.
Non-musicians can duet together playing familiar music. Initially used as a way to try and synchronise different elements of the music together, we've been using these systems in our project for people to take agency in when different parts of the music are present, and even change the speed of the music.
What work is still underway?
We have also released a survey for people living with dementia in 2022 to find out what their preferences and needs are for interacting with music and we have run a number of consultation events with various community partners in Sheffield where we look at a number of existing technologies and specially developed prototypes and discuss how we like to interact with music (see below). We are always looking for partners to discuss this project with - if you are interesed in the team coming out to your organisation and running music activities, please get in touch with project lead Jennifer MacRitchie (email@example.com).
The Listening Post
Developed to encourage unstructured listening opportunities in care homes, we have completed our first installation of the Listening Post in November 2023. If you are keen to have one in your meeting centre, community centre/library, or residential care home, please get in touch!
Conversations with your music player Community Workshop - Thursday 20th April 2023 12:30 to 3pm
Hack the Hug - Thursday 12th January 2023 12:30 to 3pm
At our Hack the Hug Community Workshop, our community partners tested out the Hug device created by Laugh for the Alzheimer’s Society. Working with the team we were re-thinking how we could enhance its musical abilities to better meet the musical needs of people living with dementia.
University of Sheffield Open Office Event – Jessop West Music Building 28 October 2022 from 12.30-3pm.
Festival of the Mind – Dementia Café in the Spiegeltent 16 September 2022 11:00 am to 1:00 pm
How to get involved
If you are living with dementia, are a spouse, family member and/or someone who provides care for someone living with dementia, if you wish to be involved in informing the research, please get in touch with Jennifer MacRitchie
This project is led by Dr Jennifer MacRitchie, funded by a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship at The University of Sheffield, in collaboration with Prof Renee Timmers, Dr Justin Christensen, Jonathan Pigrem, Katherine Jackson, Mike Neokleous and Dr Georgia Floridou (Music Mind Machine group), Prof Luc de Witte (The Hague University of Applied Sciences), and Prof Andrew McPherson (Imperial College London) with partnership from Bela (Augmented Instruments Ltd)