Senior Pi

We made the Raspberry Pi to teach kids about computing. Of the 7 million Pis we’ve sold so far, about a third have ended up with kids – the way the maker community took to the Pi was a real surprise to us, as was the enthusiastic response from industrial users.

One of the best reminders that the Raspberry Pi is not just for kids landed in my inbox a couple of weeks back. Meet Senior Pi: a touch-screen customisation of the Raspberry Pi for elderly people.


This isn’t meant to be a full computing experience. Senior Pi is a stripped-down offering, with a few useful tools for keeping informed, staying in contact, and entertainment. Gerald, the maker, created it for his own elderly parents and some other relatives, whose requirements were specific, but are shared with a lot of other older people: there was a need for larger type with high contrast to make reading possible again, along with an audiobook function for when the eyes get tired. One user found it made email possible again, when other apps on tablets and computers had become too hard to use.

It’s hard to overstate how empowering and satisfying a platform like this can be for the user. The system includes a simplified email client, which includes a slide show function: picture attachments are automatically sent to the slide show, so there’s no complicated clicking and fiddly downloading. There’s landline phone support for caller ID (currently for the USA only) with call blocking and one-touch dialling. There’s also:

  • A large button touch pad
  • Large print ebook reader
  • Audio player, which saves the last played location for each file (music, audio books, radio shows)
  • Internet radio
  • Video player
  • Current weather and forecast
  • Cookbook
  • Date and time

Gerald’s intention is for the device to be used by two people: the older person, who will be the end user, and another person who will maintain and support the system, and can also customise it further for the individual user’s needs.

Senior Pi is implemented with Qt Creator C++ code, and bash scripts.  The whole development system and source code is included in the install script, which makes customisation easy.  Gerald says:

The total download is 2.2MB and includes some sample Public Domain pictures, audio, and video. Just download to a USB drive, run the install script, and finish up by customizing some config files for phone numbers, and email contacts.  Done!

All free, no ads, just want to help the elderly.

If you have interest, then look more at our wiki, download the zip file and have fun!

Check out the very comprehensive wiki, and download Senior Pi when you get a moment. We think it’s got real potential to enhance people’s lives.


Michael Horne avatar

What a fantastic idea. Hmmm… Wonder if my Nan can cope with it… maybe not… but I reckon there must be some who would be able to!

solar3000 avatar

old does not mean out of touch.
I know people who are well over 90 and they’re hip to our game.

Liz Upton avatar

I don’t think that was ever the suggestion – but some people do benefit from help.

Gordon77 avatar

How old is senior?

Dex avatar

A wise teacher of mine once said “THere are little old ladies of both sexes and all ages”.

whheydt avatar

Parhaps I should point my kids to this in case I need it in a few years….

typ_o avatar

Definitly will try this one. Looking for something like a teletyper without paper for mail. Usage must be absolutely bullet proof for my mom (84)

mahjongg avatar

Great idea, what about a special version of an internet browser for the elderly?

Also, I would make the icons somewhat larger.

NearlyElderly avatar

If I were elderly, and I nearly am, I would find the suggestion that I’m “simple” enough to need a “simplified platform” a little offensive. The aims are laudable, the description not so much.

Jeff Greer avatar

I am a senior. Fortunately I am still very tech savvy and fully employed on my third career.

Jeff Greer avatar

PS. I have been enamored by the Pi since, I can’t remember. ;)

But I use it for education and prototyping….

Thanks for everything the Pi Foundation does!

Jim Manley avatar

As someone who cares for their Greatest Generation nonagenarian father who can still remember every microsecond of his service during the horrors of WW-II combat at Normandy, Remagen, Bastogne, the Bulge, every battle between them, and as a POW under the Nazis (when he lost 1/3 of his body weight), but can’t remember if he had breakfast, let alone what it was (then again, neither can I ;) this is as much of a Godsend for caregivers as for the cared. As anyone who’s spent their lives in awe of such people and can’t do enough for them will tell you, they’re a very proud and stubborn bunch who prize independence more than anything other than their loved ones and their country. You have to sneak help in where and when you can without them noticing that they’re being helped, and since he declared himself a dinosaur in his early 70s, you can’t imagine how he feels now in the age of Tweets, Snapchat, and Tinder (as he said, “I’m ancient, but I’m not DEAD you know – at least not yet!” :)

This is just BRILLIANT, to use that proper British adjective (he spent two years in the South of England practicing for the D-Day invasion, so he knows the King’s, or Queen’s, or Whomever’s English in all its glory, especially the naughty bits :) Gerard is to be commended and placed in front of Eben in the line for the royal sword-shouldering, regardless of his citizenship (but just one place ahead, leaving plenty of room for him and Liz – oh yes, Dearie, you’d better be ready for the weighty wielding of the wide wedge, too! ;) I hope that I’m able to maintain a lucid interval long enough when I’ll be eligible to need this (some would say it’s years late :) where I can still mess with settings without making it unbootable or otherwise into an inexpensive paperweight (albeit not much of one).

Bravo Zulu, Gerard!

Nuex* Luke Castle avatar

Getting this for my grandma and granddad.

Well Done!

Hope one day I can create something like this!


Rick avatar

Love the concept of this. We gave my elderly grandmother an iPad a few years ago as she’d had an old Windows XP computer.

One thing I’ve found is once she knows how to do something, she can do it. It’s getting her to that point though. The iPad took a LOT less time for her to pick up and understand than the computer. The only issue she had was using the touchscreen (kept trying to claw at it).

The only thing I would say about Senior Pi is that the desktop isn’t anywhere near ready for senior users based on that screenshot.

Seriously, a grid of big, bright icons with big text under them would be way more helpful. Those tiny little desktop icons are going to mean nothing to a novice elderly user.

Take a look at a few of the android elderly themes and you’ll see what I mean. They do an excelent job.

Keep it up though. The UI is going to be your biggest issue as the standard apps just wont be any help at all to the elderly. Big buttons, all with text (seriously look at some of the icons in any web browser – they mean absolutely nothing to novice users).

Jammet avatar

The important part of this is that it must have settings to change fundamentals such as touch screen presses, time-outs, and delays. Olderly people have shakey hands. A quick brief touch is difficult to many. So it has to be possible to set it up so that a full second of holding your finger on a specific spot is registered as a click.

Never have double clicks. Never have right clicks.

Jammet avatar

I’m proposing the slow-click time and long-delay because whenever I watch elderly people unused to touch devices, they never notice WHY something happens on the screen that they didn’t want, because they hold the device wrong and touch it without meaning to actually click. There has to be a big visual feedback for every finger registered on the screen. A radial timer (circle) that’s big enough and semi transparent, for example. Got your palm on the edge? Indicate that somehow.

mahjongg avatar

You are right, my father never was able to double click, as he was unable to not move the mouse between two clicks.
So he learned to point the mouse pointer, release the mouse, and then press the enter key.
So set up the software so that double clicks, and right clicks are unnecessary.
In fact for elderly people a trackball, (arcade style) is probably easier to use than a mouse.
Do not suppose this software will always be used with a touch display.

Tim Hutman avatar

Oh… this is so close to what I hope to do with my Pi…. now waiting for the touchscreen with a bit more excitement….. thanks so much

Andyj avatar

I’m with this.
Things like Internet radio, TV remote, SIP/VOIP phone, HELP ME!.. All with big buttons. My dad used to like keeping up with his financial news even though the act of logging in his sites kept forsaking him. Can all be downloaded, updated and automated.

Sadly the format is better with a pad but the pi with its easy programmability will be the server and overseer by the router.

However, the biggest stinker with phones and pads is the tiny usb socket the elderly cannot do because they are too small..
What happened to QI charging mats?

I digress. Good luck with this. A “killer app”!

Liz avatar

BRILLIANT! I’m going to make one for mom this weekend. This is exactly what she needs. Thank you!

SeniorRPI avatar

Thanks everyone for the positive comments. I have updated the download so it is compatible with the NOOBS v 1.4.2 operating system that now uses jessie. My apologies to those who got caught in the switch over and found that the install script did not work.
In answer to some of the comments, all the actions are single touch (not double click), as it is meant to work with a large touch screen. On a 21″ HDMI monitor the icons are over one inch high, and the text is quite big and configurable if one desires to change it. My 87 year old mother(long-term care facility) uses the email a lot, and it is the only email program she could use. (we tried lots) She likes that if someone emails her a picture, it goes automatically into her slide show. My mother in-law uses mostly the ebook reader (large print, good contrast), and audio book reader as her vision is poor.
Provision for web surfing was not added, as any one who has the ability to surf web pages, typically does not need the simplicity of the Senior Pi, and could use a PC or android tablet instead. Having said that you could always add the web broswer icon to the desktop :)

Jerry Trymander avatar

What a great idea!
What about adding a news feed to make it even more perfect.

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