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Making Music

Researchers have been taking a deeper look into medical issues that affect aging populations, like Alzheimer’s disease.

Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. are projected to increase by threefold in the next few decades, rising to 13.8 million individuals aged 65 and older that will potentially have the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

It is known that being physically and mentally active can help with forms of dementia, and a lot of attention has been directed toward musical ability and activity as a beneficial factor in therapy. Many studies have shown that musicians might have an advantage in cognitive functioning when it comes to aging.

Some research has even shown that former long term musicians better performed on many mental ability assessments and visual and spatial tasks, even if they were not currently musically active. This suggests that the cognitive benefits of being musically trained may actually last a lifetime.

Chloe Meineck, a research based artist and designer, has been paying attention to the data. Looking into natural therapies she has created a resource for dementia patients called the Music Memory Box.

Meant to elicit brain activity and memory function, the musical wooden box can be filled with items that are familiar to the user. When they are picked up the box responds by playing a particular musical segment that stimulates memory recollection.

Making Music

Making Music

Meineck’s own experience with her grandmother inspired the project. She consulted with elderly care centers to implement the most effective way to develop the box, which led to a kit that can be put together at home using Raspberry Pi technology.

From the designer:

I am interested in co-designing with the older population; using technology, and finding out where interventions can be designed and to help them…Part of my ongoing research and interests are about unravelling the mysteries of why music has such a profound affect on the brain and memory and why our appreciation for music stays intact to the very end of our lives. How can playing particular songs to people with dementia evoke such strong emotions and revive lost memories?

The impact that products built around research based concepts can have is significant, and a focus on natural, effective therapies is a refreshing and promising prospect in the design world.

To learn more about how Alzheimer’s affects the brain, these slides provided by the Alzheimer’s Association provide an overview.

All images are courtesy of Chloe Meineck.

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