HOWTO make a Senior Remote with only five big, friendly buttons

Unknownuser2007 has posted a great little HOWTO on Instructables -- a "senior remote" for a TV with only five buttons. I'd love one of these, but I'd also add a Play/Pause button (a few years ago I would have needed "mute" -- but with everything coming through a PVR, pause works even better when the phone rings).

My mom was born in 1931. She is from the generation of radio and WWII. Her eyesight is failing and she isn't good with anything electronic. TV remotes confuse her. This mod came to me after she called me one day, claiming her TV remote stopped working. It turns out, she inadvertently hit the button that activated the VCR functions. She didn't know or couldn't see the button to reactivate the TV functions. So I decided to "dumb" down the remote to only three functions: On/Off, Channel and Volume.
Link (via Wonderland)


  1. I hate to nitpick, but I went shopping for remotes for my parents last week and not having a mute button is definitely a deal breaker, they and my grandparents (92 & 87 years old) all rely on mute extensively, I would almost say they push mute more then the volume, power, and channel buttons all put together. At any rate, that’s the best remote control I’ve ever seen, way better then the ones with just a power button! One more button and they’ve got themselves the best remote control ever made.

  2. the only problem is the wide use of digital cable / satellite receiver boxes that could potentially foul up this wonderful little mod. I work at a telco providing technical support for a ton of elderly (and users of all ages) help to get their cable box to work correctly with their TVs and to have all the remotes work in synch with all the various tv channels. it’s a huge headache. in short, this remote would be great up to the minute you introduce modern content into their homes through some type of digital input. Really, these should be commercialized and provided as an option to customers so they don’t constantly call tech support :/

  3. I wish there was an answering machine this simple. I hooked one up for my grandmother post-Christmas and it’s just too complicated for her.

  4. I’m amazed at how many remotes for DVD players hide the Menu button somewhere in the dozens-o-buttons on their remotes. It’s only about the most important button on the damn thing.

  5. So much better than the remote we made for my grandmother! We taped raised cardboard pieces over most of the buttons, then wrapped layers of masking tape over it so it looked like a mummy remote. Only the essential buttons showed.

    Unfortunately Grandma couldn’t remember why we did that so she just kept unwrapping it. We’d find a pile of tape and the TV on Spanish subtitles again.

  6. My perfect remote has one button: OFF.

    It would sit on my nightstand, so that when I wake up at 3:00 AM and the TV is still on because my husband has fallen asleep I can kill it.

  7. An even better design for the remote would remove the abstract abbreviations and go for instantly recognizable iconography, embossed so you can just feel your way around it.

  8. This is great! But what if your mum watches DVDs too? My mum was also born around 1931 and finds modern technology befuddling. She still uses a rotary phone. If she wants to watch a DVD she has to get the neighbour to come over and set it up for her, returning later so that she can go back to watching TV.

    I think as geeks we really need to lead the charge towards a standardized remote. Each of us has at least three of the things taking up space on the coffee table. Even if companies want to make their own surely they could at least agree on the shape, size and placement of buttons such as Power, Mute, Menu, Play, etc. We have standardized phone keypads and keyboards. Isn’t it long past due for remotes?

  9. My mom was born in ’22 and has no trouble operating her TV, cable, dvd, cd, etc.

    My pop was born in ’25 and has his own computer, and rips his own cd to mp3’s for his player. Last year, he learned how to rip from cassettes after I sent him a few links of how-to.

    But I can see how a remote like that would be handy for an alzheimers or dementia affected person, whatever the age.

    I think that it just may take some extra tutorial time with a standard remote when they first get it. Show once and leave doesn’t cut it. There should be a 5x walkthrough where they are the ones pushing the buttons and developing a sense and locational memory of what each button does. Bigger buttons with larger and clearer function titles would also be a help.

    You know what else would be cool? Being able to speak to your remote or TV and say “hush” for a mute, or “CNN”, or “louder” or whatever.

  10. I believe the Wii remote makes a very sensible TV remote. The buttons come in different sizes and come in positions that are easy to hit (I cannot imagine hitting buttons so low on a remote like the photo in the article shows the up/down volume buttons.)

    – A (face button) goes up a channel
    – B (trigger button) goes back a channel
    – + button: volume up
    – – button: volume down
    – home button: pause/mute

    More sensible to me than four similarly sized triangle buttons on the same face of a remote.

  11. Too bad he has such a snotty attitude towards older people. Simple (“elegant”) and functional design is hard to do and needed by people of any age.

    Maybe, if the aged bigotry stopped, we’d all have better products?

  12. Both the HOWTO and the Tek-Pal ones are brilliant. I was born in the 50s and my brain works fine (well, most of the time), but who can see the titles on all those buttons on other remotes?

    And MPB, you’re right about elegant design being hard and useful at any age, but you’re wrong to think age is irrelevant. Dementia affects a significant portion of older people:

  13. I’m 47 and intimidated by remotes and iphones and such. My mom is in her 70s, failing eyesight, and technology resistant. My sisters got her a jitterbug phone,, designed to be user friendly for older folks. She likes it and uses it. I should probably get one myself.

    I’ll throw in a gratuitous link to my blog,, since the last time I posted here I got a buncha hits. Most recent posts is about the word “vervetish”.

  14. Given that in our Shiny New Future, I have no fucking clue how to turn the TV on whenever I go to someone else’s house, as there are always three identical remotes, one of which is useless, and the other two have an arcane button-sequence only known to initiates to get the bugger working, I welcome this with open arms.

  15. What I’ve wanted (since I posted about it in 2005!) is an MP3 player simple BIG buttons like this remote mod, for elderly folk to use. Since in 2008 I still have not found one maybe I’ll be old enough to need one myself before anyone sees the market potential!

  16. In trying to find a stripped-down, TV-only remote for my mom, who was born in 1929 and is a brain injury survivor, as well as someone who suffers from a degenerative brain disease, resulting in bouts of dementia, I could find NOTHING of any use. Even that Tek-Pak one in one of the links above is too confusing for her. We have it. I’ve found the up/down channel buttons to be a nightmare for her (and me, as I try talk her through it from work). She gets the channel buttons confused with the volume and keeps pressing them instead, so the poor thing is usually on snow or the religious channel, which is right above the one with her ABC soap opera in our market, when I get home from work. The “Ch” and “Vol” abbreviations mean nothing to her most days. After buying all sorts of “senior-friendly” TV remotes the last couple of years, this weekend I finally took a knife and scissors to her Tak-Pak remote, removing the channel buttons. (On a previous universal remote, I gouged out the VCR, DVD buttons and duct taped them since she, too, kept deactivating the TV mode.) I also had to take out the on/off button this time, as that confused her, too. So, I’m hoping this week she can finally operate the TV with just the volume up/down and mute buttons intact. She only ever watches one channel, so there’s no need to change it, and if she wants peace and quiet, she can just press mute. I covered the now-empty holes where the other buttons were with paper and wrote LOUD/SOFT and MUTE in big letters next to the remaining buttons with a Sharpie marker. I also had to draw a big arrow to guide her to point the remote at the TV, as she either holds it backwards toward herself or pointing up to the ceiling as she looks at the buttons. Living with brain injury and deterioration (both for the patient and the caregiver) is quite a challenge. It was good to find this site to see my mom’s not the only one with these challenges. But I’m also disappointed to see that you guys confirm there’s nothing on the market to help folks like my mom and others listed here by you all. Now the next challenge — how do I find a non-confusing TV with closed captioning big enough to see (ours is from 1990 and has none) with a bigger screen so my mom can see and understand the TV, which has now also become a challenge. From what I’ve discovered, HDTVs are not very friendly for those who are both hearing and visually impaired (and with brain disorders) with the smaller closed captioning and complicated remote controls! :-(

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