A new reality

A resident was depressed. Caregivers brought in puppies, and her face lit up. She was smiling and reaching for them while cooing about their cuteness.

It was powerful, Tom Neumann, CTO of Rendever, tells I Advance Senior Care. An activity staffer said her reaction was even starting to cheer him up because he hadn’t seen her like that in months.

Only, the puppies aren’t real, and the woman with cognitive decline is responding to immersive videos. Virtual reality is cutting-edge technology typically associated with entertainment and gaming. Rendever is harnessing the technology as a tool to engage and stimulate the aging population.

The startup company has built a virtual reality platform for seniors in assisted living and memory care to provide mental stimulation, reduce isolation, improve patient care and increase quality of life. Rendever, founded in 2015, offers reminiscence therapy and educational, activity-driven content.

“To be able to do things you thought you wouldn’t be able to do again in virtual reality, to go to places that are important to you—not just to look at them on the screen—but to feel like you are really there is so powerful for people who can’t physically travel easily,” Neumann says. “It expands the world.”

The technology can take seniors to places that otherwise may not be accessible and is helping to give them a new worldview. The ability to choose your own adventure makes the technology even more meaningful and personal.

Virtual reality can take residents to places they’ve always wanted to go like the Eiffel Tower or Machu Picchu. It also can take them home. Neumann says that’s by far the most requested destination and that personal places are  most impactful.

Co-founder Kyle Rand draws on his own experiences of moving his grandmother into a long-term care facility. Grandma Joella grew up on a lake and loved being around the water and with family. Growing up, Rand remembers her coming over to his house to hang out by the pool. She had a difficult time transitioning to a place with new people and didn’t connect with them. Grandma Joella fell into serious isolation and sudden cognitive decline.

Rendever could bring her comfort. She could put on the virtual reality headset and go to the lake and watch the sunset from the dock. The activity director could lead a small group session to get to know Joella by going through major parts of her life.  Virtual reality is not only a way to go out and experience the world, Rand says. It’s putting Joella in an environment she has a strong emotional connection to and having her share memories while creating meaningful connections with staff and fellow residents.

“From the family’s perspective, that gives me a huge peace of mind knowing the people she lives down the hall from and the people who take care of her know a little bit about her background and her story,” Rand says.

Rendever is a turn-key virtual reality platform that uses off-the-shelf virtual reality hardware, such as the Samsung Gear VR. The software is entirely customized, proprietary and designed for seniors. Communities own the platform and are free to incorporate it within their existing activity program. There’s an upfront cost for hardware, set up, installation and training, and a subscription-base service to access the content library and software.

The founders followed a user-centered design approach, meaning they spent time talking with residents, activities staff and executive directors to understand their pain points and how virtual reality could improve residents’ quality of life.

Rendever designed virtual reality sessions to be flexible and simple to use. Residents simply put the headset on and swivel their heads while activity staff use a tablet to control the headsets.

“Everything we provide is focused on enhancing the resident experience,” Rand says. “We’re not just providing some video streaming service. Communities don’t need another video streaming service. What communities want is activities that provide and enhance resident experience from all sides.”

Rendever has developed networking technology that allows a group of residents to have the same virtual reality experience, meaning they could all be sitting under the Northern Lights in Finland and talking about what they’re seeing. That shared experience has been important in drawing residents out and bringing them closer together, Rand says.

The company records some content itself and has developed proprietary technology to pull images from Google Street view into virtual reality. Rendever has also partnered with a few studios that produce virtual reality content.

It’s now working to develop a family portal so family members can create personalized content for their loved ones. That might mean recreating their life story in a series of locations or recording important moments using 360-degree virtual reality cameras and tripods that communities buy and lend out. So, if a resident can’t attend a granddaughter’s wedding 3,000 miles away, the wedding could be recorded and available for the resident to experience in the next virtual reality session. 

Topics: Activities , Alzheimer's/Dementia , Articles , Clinical , Technology & IT