Elderly Remote Keeps Things Simple

If you are lucky, you’ve never experienced the heartbreak of watching a loved one lose their ability to do simple tasks. However, as hackers, we have the ability to customize solutions to make everyday tasks more accessible. That’s what [omerrv] did by creating a very specific function remote control. The idea is to provide an easy-to-use interface for the most common remote functions.

This is one of those projects where the technology puzzle is now pretty easy to solve: IR remotes are well-understood and there are plenty of libraries for recording and playing back signals. The real work is to understand the user’s challenges and come up with a workable compromise between something useful and something too complex for the user to deal with.

Fortunately, with all the prototyping tools readily available now, it is easy to experiment with different setups to see what would work best. Larger keys? Color coding? A different arrangement of buttons? All of those things are easy to experiment with and, of course, what works for one person might not work for another. Even given time, it is possible that different configurations will work better or worse for the same person.

It isn’t likely that you’d duplicate [omerrv’s] remote directly. It may not work for your purpose. But it is a good inspiration on how we can use our ability to create customized hardware to improve the quality of life for those who need help.

We’ve seen similar projects — each one is a bit different. We wonder if old-fashioned remotes with their natural limitations would be a bit easier for people to handle?

25 thoughts on “Elderly Remote Keeps Things Simple

  1. 2 weeks ago I 3D-printed a “box” that goes around the remote that covers all the keys except those that the user actually needs. (93, dementia: Does not want to look at EPG or access other functions than what a 1980 TV could do. So: change channels, change volume.)

    1. Had a similar problem with a now-late grandfather, but I “just” bought a extra remote and removed the rubber dome buttons for the not needed functions and filled their holes with black knockoff sugru like compound.
      Since the original remote had some really big buttons for commonly used functions, it made it more sense to take that approach.

      1. (the creator of Sababox)
        My neighbor isn’t just old but also suffers from difficulties with sensing and basic motoric actions, and therefore taping or even pulling out buttons off the remote isn’t the solutions.

  2. When my mom got the point where she couldn’t use her TV remote of 10 years, I made her a single speaker with a next button and volume to play music. Used a DF Robot MP3 player, it was simple and she enjoyed the music of her youth for the rest of her life. Thanks for the article.

        1. Early tv remotes, I think from Zenith, were ultrasonic. Actually, they may have been mechanical, press the button and the needed tone by mechanical means.

          The first VCR I saw was in 1980, and the remote was wired to it. It at least plugged in. There were cable converters with wired remotes, too.

  3. Remember we had a talk about possibility to use something like Arduino or Pi Zero with 3D printed case to build something like a more budget friendly version of Doro 580 mobile phone:

    but without display so it could be more “rugged” and use some LEDs instead and even drop SMS support and do the settings via PC… Such thing could help many people I think considering my experience with elderly users around.

    There could be even VOIP version calling through some common protocol – not sure if this is possible with Skype but maybe with Google or Tox…

    The TV remotes the smallest problem as there are already several remotes for elderly people which can be shipped already programmed for particular TV or other device.

      1. Needs two-stage buttons which none of these things implement. Press and it says “press to call john”. Hold it for a couple seconds or press harder and it says “calling john”. Eyesight and or dexterity gets bad, these things need to be self-guiding.

        1. Considering bad hearing and possibly also dementia you should not use multi-functional buttons and be as simple as possible. For example my grandma is no more able to understand the menu and would possibly have issues with even voice guide.

          The Doro is good I think but it is really expensive and I think the user does not need the display if there are just few contacts to call – you can instead have a labels with names and photos and simple LED symbols – could make the hardware more simple and cheaper.

        1. (the creator of Sababox)
          My neighbor isn’t just old but also suffers from difficulties with sensing and basic motoric actions, and therefore taping or even pulling out buttons off the remote isn’t the solutions.

          Tiny remotes are also not a solution for him.
          In addition, the product on your link offers a very low functionality for a remote

  4. This is a very real problem. We gave my mother-in-law a “Flipper” remote (flipperremote.com/) that has Volume, Channel and On/off for her TV. The other functions are hidden by a panel and it’s pretty decent universal remote. She hated change but made her peace with it and it seemed to work out pretty well. Covering up the buttons on the remote she already knew would have been a lot nicer. I’d love it if the manufacturers included that as a standard feature.

  5. Don’t forget to put the LEDs on the bottom of the shell. Seems everyone (regardless of age, etc) tends to point the remote at the ceiling (to better read the buttons).

    I have trimmed out the front hole of an old remote and bent the LEDs downwards a bit to help with the aiming problems.

      1. Or make it RF with a matching RF receiver and a IR led near the TV, doesn’t matter where you point it anymore. It’s best to adapt the tech to the human, not the other way round.

  6. Many many years ago, they sold an eggshaped programmable (point your ol remote into it and press the buttons) remote with just volume + – and Chanel + – And a big on off button and one blank button for anything you want.

    I laughed at it back then, but if it was still on sale I would buy a dozen for all my relatives that is getting old and confused. they need a button for the channel list, and a possibility to step up and down in it and choose a channel, and a volume control.

    Heck, that’s how I use my remote 90% of the time, for channel 1-9 I might punch in the cannel number, but not for channel 36, or is it 35 that is CNN, then I use the channel list and scrolls

    1. (the creator of Sababox)
      My neighbor isn’t just old but also suffers from difficulties with sensing and basic motoric actions, and therefore taping or even pulling out buttons off the remote isn’t the solutions.

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