Virtual Reality Starts Expanding Horizons in Assisted Living

Unfortunately, some seniors living in assisted living communities will never be able to complete all of the travel items on their bucket lists. 

That’s where Rendever Health, a startup helmed by two graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, comes in.

Rendever is developing virtual reality software for Samsung Gear VR headsets that is meant to be used in assisted living communities, co-founders Reed Hayes and Dennis Lally tell Senior Housing News.

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With their technology, assisted living residents can once again walk down the street where they grew up, finally stand underneath the Eiffel Tower, or even skydive from a plane thousands of feet in the air—all without leaving their chair, much less their assisted living community.

So far, Rendever’s virtual reality programming has been used in a couple of facilities around the country, Lally says—and it has received a warm reception.

“The residents love a large variety of the content that we’ve been showing them,” Hayes says. “We take them to outer space and on other world travel experiences, but the most powerful always ends up being their childhood homes.”

The idea for introducing virtual reality technology into assisted living communities comes from Hayes’ personal experience.

“A couple of my family members lived in assisted living communities, and I hated the quality of life that they had,” he says. He felt a desire to re-connect his relatives with the places they once knew, and expand their worlds beyond the communities where they lived. This desire has resonated with many of the communities Rendever has approached about its virtual reality programming.  

“We’ve been going to the communities, explaining our proprietary technology, and they’ve invited us to come in and share it with the residents, with no strings attached on any side,” Lally explains.

Hayes and Lally eventually hope to allow assisted living residents to virtually attend family members’ weddings, or other special events they may have to miss due to their limited mobility.

The duo also hopes to measure the effects virtual reality technology have on aging and associated depression. They are currently in discussion with Massachusetts General Hospital to learn more about the clinical and emotional side of the technology they’re piloting, Hayes tells SHN. 

“Our goal is to reduce depression,” he says. “We want to know how our technology affects rates of depression in the senior patient population, how we can use virtual reality programming to diagnose early-stage cognitive impairment, and whether virtual reality programming can be used as therapy to treat cognitive impairment.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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