$25 An Hour to $50K A Year: What Senior Living Spends on Virtual Reality

Social isolation. Dementia support. Pain management. Staff training.

Today, senior living operators are starting to look at virtual reality as a piece of the solution to these challenges — and they’re starting to spend real money on it.

In the new report, “Inside The Rise of Senior Living Virtual Reality,” Senior Housing News spoke with seven operators at one stage or another in their virtual reality (VR) journey, from those investing heavily in the technology to others who have taken it for a test drive with a short trial or demonstration. We also spoke with five senior-centric VR vendors to learn their prices and products.

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The experiences from the operators interviewed were largely positive. Here is an overview of what they are buying in VR, and how much it costs.

What operators are buying

A senior housing operator bringing virtual reality to its community is essentially making two purchases. The company is buying the hardware, known as the “kit” — the headset, typically a tablet that staff members use to direct the sessions and potentially other materials.

The company is also buying the content and ongoing platform and support services that most vendors provide to help senior housing staff members run the VR programs. Most vendors sell the content and the services in a subscription package, usually monthly and per community. Others sell or rent headsets with pre-loaded content.

The most important piece of the hardware is the headset, also known as the “goggles.” While early headsets required additional equipment to power the content — either being tethered to a computer or including a clip-in smartphone — headsets are moving toward new standalone models. This trend is crucial for seniors and senior housing, with headsets that are more mobile, lighter and less expensive.

“It’s much simpler for our activity programmers to operate a wireless system,” says Brian Geyser, vice president of clinical innovation and population health of Westport, Connecticut-based Maplewood Senior Living, which uses VR-vendor Rendever to run eight-person VR “travel” sessions in assisted living. “All eight residents put the goggles on, and you’re in, and you’re controlling the content from the tablet. That’s it. It’s pretty simple.”

Rendever is one of four vendors interviewed for SHN’s report that is using a headset by Oculus, an industry leader that was founded in 2012 on the strength of a $2.4 million Kickstarter campaign, well surpassing its $250,000 goal. Two years later, Facebook acquired Oculus for $2.3 billion, leading to an explosion in its popularity.

The one vendor not using Oculus is MyndVR. It originally used the Samsung Gear VR for its headsets, but last month switched to the VIVE Standalone Focus from Taiwan-based HTC Corporation as part of its MyndVR 2.0 platform. Among the reasons that the company made the switch is that the VIVE Focus headset is built specifically for educational and health care applications, as opposed to gamers, and is sold only for enterprise-level operations.

The other expenses with a VR program are the ongoing services: the support and platform services, and the content. These are the “programs” that are broadcast to the user through the headsets. Most of the vendors interviewed for this report charge monthly subscription fees to content, generally in the low hundreds. One that stands out as different is Boston- and Israel-based XRHealth, which has a three-tiered option: $1 per use, $99 per month for 100 sessions, $1,000 per month for unlimited sessions.

A range of investment levels

For operators that want to start a virtual reality program, there are a variety of pricing models and levels of commitment. Some providers are merely dipping a toe into virtual reality, while others — including Maplewood — are making serious investments. Furthermore, nonprofit providers are seeking out funding mechanisms to support their efforts, while for-profit providers are starting to allocate more of their budgets to VR.

From January to March of 2019, memory care unit The Grove at the Terraces of Phoenix brought in health-and-wellness VR vendor Zenjoi to run a trial with about seven residents and their families. The trial offered 15-20 minute sessions for residents at a cost to the Terraces of $25 an hour.

Maplewood, meanwhile made an upfront purchase of $104,000 to bring eight headsets plus accessories to 13 assisted living communities. The company then spends $320 per month per community — or $49,920 annually — on content, training and ongoing services. All of this comes from a combination of its activity budget and its life-enrichment budget. Other for-profit providers that spoke to SHN for this report are also drawing from these budgets, as well as the marketing budget.

While the Terraces of Phoenix and Maplewood represent two ends of the spectrum, other providers are somewhere in the middle, opting for long-term leases or short-term rentals to introduce virtual reality in their communities. But even as they’re choosing different vendors and are committing different dollar amounts to VR, these providers are unified in one respect: they see a bright future for this technology in senior living.

“I want to see the program grow,” says Marilyn Davis, executive director at Signature Pointe Dallas, managed by Life Care Services, which in December signed a two-year lease with MyndVR to run a program around resident happiness and wellbeing, but soon found benefits for residents living with Parkinson’s.

“This has been absolutely eye-opening for me to watch it and see what we’re doing, and to see how our clients respond to it and how much they enjoy it.”

This article draws from the new report, “Inside the Rise of Senior Living Virtual Reality.” Click here to access the complete report, which includes exclusive pricing data showing what operators are spending on VR, never-before-published data and use cases that are driving these investments and in-depth looks into how operators use VR for resident happiness, resident health and staff retention.


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