Enhancing a long-distance relationship between an Alzheimer's disease patient and their family

  • Every freshman at NYU Abu Dhabi spends a month in an intensive design and fabrication bootcamp addressing a prompt; my team addressed communication interfaces for Alzheimer’s patients

Our brief

In response to a design brief during NYU Abu Dhabi SuperLab(2014), my team developed a non-traditional musical communication device to connect Alzheimer’s patients with their families. The project is a ‘two-way’ interface that has connected pianos in Alzheimer patient’s nursing home, and their family’s home. The purpose of the project is to connect over distance, and remind the family at home of their loved one’s activities. Any side could start playing, and the other get the output in the form of light on the keys being pressed.

Our task was to address Alzheimer’s disease in the context of the following prompt (courtesy of Matt Karau):

  • create a new communication product
  • enhance a human relationship
  • user has a specific health condition
  • beneficial emotional impact
  • no voice or screen connection
  • tangible, wearable, kinetic encouraged
  • must display working prototype

Justification for musical communication interfaces

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking or behavior. This disease accounts for 50-80 percent of dementia cases. Research by Baird and Samson titled Memory for Music in Alzheimer’s Disease: Unforgettable? shows that Alzheimer’s patients retain the ability to play musical instrument even into the later stages of the disease. The piano long-distance interface is a way of celebrating this fact. We also believe that musical interface would be a potent way to improve the emotional well-being of Alzheimer’s patients.

SuperLab was my introduction to rapid prototyping

As one of the first time that I became emerged into rapid prototyping, SuperLab was a transformative experience. It was the first time I had the chance to go full-throttle on electrical engineering work. In 20 days of workshops, I gained solid background in Arduino, open-source electronics, laser cutting and 3D printing. I invested myself fully in the process, and in return I obtained foundations in engineering that help me out until today.

Flying in Wadi Wurayah
UAV in the air