Designing new musical technologies for older adults' wellbeing

Collaborating with researchers across music, psychology and engineering, a new Department of Music research project investigates how we can harness emerging technologies to boost opportunities for older adults living with dementia.

Hands clapping image

Music Mind Machine  is a research centre that offers a platform for researchers and students to investigate musical experience from an interdisciplinary perspective, combining theories and methods from music, psychology, social sciences and computational sciences. 

The latest project, Designing new musical technologies for older adults' wellbeing, is developing tools and technologies to facilitate music interaction. The 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.

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.

Although creativity and play are often encouraged in childhood, they can often be left behind as remnants of this same childhood. However, participation in music and arts activities is regularly offered as a form of leisure, care, and is even used as therapy for people living with dementia. Early research evidence indicates that these activities provide benefits for wellbeing and quality of life for a person living with dementia, and can even reaffirm a person’s sense of self through their involvement in these activities.

Experiment with the technology

The music, technology and dementia team would like to warmly invite you to join us for a cup of tea at the Spiegeltent, and for you to try out some of our latest technologies as well as some of the more established arts devices made for people living with dementia.

We would love to hear what you think of the devices but also to chat with you about your needs as a person living with dementia or a carer of someone who is living with dementia. Our goal is to work together with people in the community to make devices for accessing music and the arts more dementia friendly in the ways that are important to you. 

Festival of the Mind – Dementia Café in the Spiegeltent 16 September 11:00 am to 1:00 pm

What is Festival of the Mind?

Festival of the Mind is the University of Sheffield’s flagship and largest public engagement festival, in which the University’s academics partner with a local creative to develop an engaging way to translate their research into an event showcase for the general public. This project may be a film, podcast, art installation, dance or an immersive gallery experience. Events are free to attend and open to all members of the public. In this way, the Festival both showcases our world-class research to the general public and invests in local creative talent, contributing to the cultural vibrancy of the city - a key strand of the University’s Made Together programme. 

Festival of the mind

What does the project involve?

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.

In 2021, we have recently completed i) a scoping review that draws together recent advances in technologies for the creative arts for people living with dementia (publication under review), ii) a national survey for arts workers and organisations to gather the lessons learned from delivering activities online/remotely for people living with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic (analysis underway). We are also preparing to release a survey for people living with dementia in late 2021 to find out what their preferences and needs are for interacting with music.

Future work will include design workshopping and collaboration with Bela in order to bring about and test new designs.

Project website

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