Benchmark Senior Living on Clapboardtree is located about 10 miles from Gillette Stadium, so it’s natural that many residents were thrilled when the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in February. And just a few days later, they were excited to attend the parade in Boston celebrating the win — via virtual reality.
Virtual reality (VR) has generated a lot of buzz in recent years and is beginning to make greater inroads in senior living. Benchmark’s event at Clapboardtree highlights how VR already can add value to senior living and also suggests what the future may hold.
Serendipity was involved in bringing the virtual Patriots parade to Benchmark residents.
Rendever is a startup focused primarily on bringing VR technology into senior living settings, and the company is based in Boston. Right after the Patriots’ big win, Rendever CEO Kyle Rand was talking with a colleague, who suggested they try to film the parade for VR from a float. Through connections with startup accelerator MassChallenge, Rand quickly found himself in logistical discussions with the mayor’s office.
“Twenty-four hours later, one of our employees was on the parade with two VR cameras,” he told Senior Housing News. “Getting media passes is so hard [for these events], but the mission we’re pursuing is something that time and time again people are willing to align themselves for.”
Rendever already had a relationship with Benchmark, which is based in Waltham, Massachusetts and is one of the largest providers in the region, with nearly 60 communities. The company is planning to incorporate virtual reality in a new building that is going up, Adelaide of Newton Centre. While discussing this project with Benchmark Community Technology Specialist Tom Fitzpatrick, Rand mentioned filming the Super Bowl parade.
Plans were laid to bring that virtual parade to Clapboardtree.
“That was the planets aligning,” Fitzpatrick told SHN.
The two-hour event involved a mix of assisted living and memory care residents. A Rendever representative introduced the technology to the residents, explaining how they would don the VR headset and what they would experience.
“I think some residents were a bit skeptical … and as soon as they put the VR goggles on, they had a better understanding that they are transporting to that location, they can live and breathe that experience,” Fitzpatrick said.
The response was overwhelmingly positive — one resident even said that he spotted a relative in the crowd.
“A lot of staff members … their jaws were hanging there in awe that the residents were having such a great time, same with the family members there that day,” Fitzpatrick said.
Already, senior living providers and other types of health care organizations have been experimenting with VR as a form of pain relief and to do a kind of reminiscence therapy, taking people to places like their childhood neighborhoods or destinations associated with positive memories.
This is one application of VR that Benchmark is exploring for the Adelaide of Newton Centre community, which will have a sort of “brain gym,” Fitzpatrick said.
But the Super Bowl parade shows that virtual reality is not limited to simulated trips to Paris or hikes in the woods, but can be deployed to keep residents engaged in exciting current events.
“The camera tech has really evolved,” Rand said. “Internal stabilization in cameras works so well that the post-processing is light-speed faster.”
This is what enabled Rendever to capture the parade footage and deliver it to the Benchmark community just a week later.
There’s even greater potential once 5G becomes a reality.
At that point, a resident’s family might be able to take a VR headset to a wedding or other event and essentially live-stream it. That is, someone in assisted living might be able to “attend” the wedding as it actually happens.
Benchmark already has piloted Rendever in a few communities, and now Fitzpatrick is contemplating new and innovative ways to expand these efforts and do more creative programming. For instance, it might be possible to create a multi-sensory experience by placing a resident’s feet in sand while they take a virtual trip to the beach.
Furthermore, the technology has potential sales and marketing applications, in facilitating virtual tours, he noted.
And the technology is not prohibitive from a cost perspective. The hardware is limited to the goggles and tablets, and beyond that it’s a subscription fee model, Fitzpatrick said. However, a building must have sufficient Wi-Fi.
Overall, Fitzpatrick looks forward to showcasing VR to Benchmark executive directors and seeing how the technology is utilized across the portfolio in the coming years.
“I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg,” he said.