Virtual Reality: Not for Millennials Only

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Interview with Gina Saunders, Maplewood Senior Living, and Kyle Rand, Rendever

Decline in mobility, lack of transportation, and financial constraints are just a few of the common challenges faced by older adults who long to participate in community events or experience new places.  For some residents of retirement and assisted living communities, social isolation and loneliness can be especially acute.

Virtual reality could play a key role in reducing social isolation. Profiled in the study, “Loneliness and the aging population – how businesses and governments can address a looming crisis,” Mass.-based Rendever offers a virtual reality solution that gives older adults the chance to virtually explore places they cannot physically visit.

We recently spoke with Kyle Rand, co-founder and CEO of Rendever, and Gina Saunders, Corporate Director of Memory Care and Programming for Maplewood Senior Living, to learn how they are successfully implementing virtual reality solutions at Maplewood communities – and challenging the assumption that older adults can’t or won’t use new technologies.

Finding the perfect place that meets your loved ones’ needs is stressful

Photo of Gina Saunders, Maplewood Senior Living

Gina Saunders, Maplewood Senior Living

Gina:  People need reassurance that this is the right place – emotionally and physically for their wellness. Our approach is person-centered. We zone in on residents’ emotions and enhance their quality of life in whatever ways we can.

Many new residents have to build trust and relationships with people they’ve just met, and that can be very challenging. The Rendever VR experience provides an opportunity to connect and engage residents in new ways. It can help build connections naturally through a shared and emotionally rich social experience. For example, we see residents interacting with each other while on virtual trips to places like Antarctica: “Hey Joe, look at that penguin to the right, he’s huge!”.

Think about going to Iceland, a concert, a baseball game, or a child’s first birthday – a lot of older adults can’t do that for one reason or another. So we help provide that experience.

photo of Kyle Rand, Rendever

Kyle Rand, Rendever

Kyle: Rendever uses high-end VR cameras to create these experiences and we develop others with amazing professional content partners. Access to the world at this scale is relatively new, and while people can now hop on a flight over to Iceland for a couple hundred dollars – not everyone shares this ease of mobility.

Our mission is to connect older adults to the world, in part by capturing every major cultural event around the globe and using our technology so they can experience it together, first-hand.  We’ve also developed tools that allow family members to create customized VR content for their loved ones so that they can revisit their childhood home or favorite vacation spot, or attend a granddaughter’s wedding – even if it’s halfway across the world.

“Hey, I just went on a canoe ride down the Grand Canyon!”

Kyle: Sometimes we get calls from family members that say, “What’s going on here? You’re taking my mom on canoe rides?”

Gina: So, family members may be a little worried initially, but once they understand what we’re doing, or experience it themselves, they get extremely excited. Family members who have seen it just can’t get over it – they want to try it again. Some say they’re going to go out and buy VR for themselves! When they see their loved one light up and interact, or experience a sense of joy from the experience, it’s priceless.

Photo os Rio De Janiero, with quote I get to know a part of the word I've thought about but never knew what it looked like....and know I do. Lillian age 83

 A virtual experience can spark real social connections.

Kyle: Retirement and assisted living communities really try to provide a social environment, but most residents don’t know much about each other and there’s often not a lot of new things going on to generate conversation. But when we provide a virtual experience that people can share, such as sitting in the front row at symphony hall and listening to an orchestra perform – later that day we see them at the dinner table talking about what they just experienced.

Gina: The virtual experience helps build conversation and socialization naturally because participants are together in the experience. It gives residents new things to talk about together…..“Oh do you remember when we were at Machu Picchu?” The experiences actually help build relationships and new friendships – they go to other programs and sit together during mealtime. They’re having fun.

That idea that older adults refuse to use new technology is a fallacy. The challenge is to make a millennial’s technology accessible to them.

Gina: I think most people assume that older adults don’t want to learn and try new things or have new hobbies or interests. That’s the stigma. Many people think of new technologies as just being for the younger set, but that’s not been true for our residents. When we announced Rendever, I didn’t have to advertise. We saw the residents line up and those who didn’t know about it were extremely curious, asking “What is this?” and “I want to try that!”.

Kyle: We’ve spent a lot of time in communities, talking with activities staff and residents, figuring out what parts of the technology work well and where we needed to ease the friction of new technology adoption. When new tech is introduced, there are a lot of moving pieces, and it was important to understand each component and each opportunity for improvement. When we bring Rendever into a community, we often get to guide people through their first few virtual reality experiences. Once they are comfortable in using the VR hardware and engaging with the content they then become some of our best ambassadors, encouraging their friends and neighbors to try it. It’s this friendly encouragement that opens people up and gets them to experience it for themselves – and then they can’t put it down.

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