When people think of virtual reality, most of them probably equate it with the ultimate gaming experience. But for folks with relatives living in elder care facilities with debilitating disease that render them immobile or confused, VR will soon serve a more profound purpose.
Rendever, a startup founded by Reed Hayes and Dennis Lally, is developing VR experiences specifically for elder care residents who are no longer able to get outside and explore the world by themselves.
Hayes has had his own experience with family members living in elder care, specifically in dementia units. From visiting his loved ones in specialized facilities came a spark of inspiration for the startup:
I remember going into that atmosphere and not being satisfied with the quality of care and how sad most people were living in that environment. I’d think, ‘Hey, what if I were stuck in a building that’s less than 3,000 square-feet with no capability of leaving or traveling? Would I be OK with that?’ The answer was absolutely not… It’s really like a form of prison, and the residents did nothing wrong – they just aged.
That initial observation made two years ago spurred on a brainstorm for technological solutions that would thwart feelings of isolation, depression and general cabin fever among elder care residents. When Hayes looked at VR, he knew it was a fit.
“Virtual reality is definitely going to be a big force in the tech market,” Hayes said. “We want to use it for this older population, a demographic who can benefit the most from it but who are the least capable of using it themselves.”
He and Lally, who met one another at MIT Sloan, went all in on the venture last September and they’re currently “knee-deep in development.” Within the next couple of weeks, Rendever will launch its beta. According to Hayes, at that time, residents in select partner facilities will be able to use Oculus and will be presented with a menu full of experience options.
For instance, people in elder care can feel as if they were traveling the world. Rendever will release a feature called Family Moments, where family members can use a 360-degree camera to film events – whether they be the weddings of residents’ grandchildren or discussion around the dinner table. Those captured events can then be uploaded into residents’ accounts so they can be immersed in them and feel as if they were there.
The venture is also working with Google’s street view capabilities to create custom experiences for elderly users, virtually transporting them to their childhood homes, high schools or other meaningful locations from throughout their lives. This way, they can relive their fond memories, which can be particularly helpful for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
All interactions residents have with Rendever’s VR technology can be controlled through an iPad or tablet. That allows family members and caregivers to help users navigate the technology with minimal issues.
After the beta testing, which will be conducted at Orchard Hill in Sudbury, Nevill Center at Fresh Pond and Legacy Senior Services in the southeastern portion of the U.S., Rendever will launch simulation testing its been working on for physicians at Mass General. These simulations will ask elderly individuals being screened for different disorders to perform tasks in a virtual world full of distractions, helping doctors make diagnoses. The testing will begin in a month, Hayes said. He mentioned they’re working with other physicians on using the venture’s programming as part of anxiety management therapeutics.
So far, they’ve tested portions of their VR components for about 500 residents. “The general reaction is they’ll start crying into their headsets because they’re so happy,” Hayes told us. “They’ve been cooped up for a long time, and that response is one of the most rewarding parts of my career.
“Our mission is to expand the world with virtual reality for older adults, ultimately reducing isolation and depression and bringing them a higher quality of life,” he continued. “We want to be the bridge between virtual reality and this population, who truly does need it but can’t do it themselves.”
Rendever has been self-funded up until this point. However, Hayes shared they are ready to close a round with an angel investor and are also in talks with a venture capital firm. He and Lally will be selling Rendever into elder care communities and home help agencies, charging a subscription fee for the hardware and software components, as well as the maintenance.