CLEVELAND, Ohio — The positive effects of music on people with dementia is well known and extensively researched. If you ever saw the documentary film “Alive Inside,” you’re familiar. If you haven’t, have a box of tissues ready. It is remarkably moving.
For some, music just brings a little nostalgic comfort. For others, it’s as if a younger version of themselves has been awakened by Cab Calloway himself.
John Hannibal, some people call him Radio Hannibal, thinks about that, about his parents — both of whom suffered from dementia before they died — and about how his idea for a simple radio for people with dementia might actually ease their burden.
Hannibal has been involved in radio and audio visual equipment all his life, making mix tapes and now Spotify playlists of new music for friends and, for his day job, wiring up smart homes with sound systems, alarms and all manner of remote controlled functionality.
He stewed on his radio idea for years. His father, Jack, died in 2000, his dementia having progressed rapidly after a diagnosis of Supranuclear Palsy. The idea for the radio came as he visited his dad in the nursing home.
His mother, Pat, had Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2015. It was that year that Hannibal decided to share his idea with his business partner, Rhonda Buynak. “He sketched it out on a napkin while we were getting a bite,” she said.
She was on board immediately.
“I wasn’t an engineer, no one in my family has suffered from Alzheimer’s, but I needed to be a part of this! It was an opportunity to do something good in the world,” she said.
What took shape on that napkin was an idea to build a small radio with just three large buttons that can tune in a favorite oldies station pre-set by a caregiver or access a flash drive full of music files the caregiver inserts. “It’s so simple. You can just smack a button and the music plays,” said Hannibal. It’s not music therapy, which is a medical discipline practiced by professionals. It’s…