So far, virtual reality company Rendever has largely used its technology to reduce the social isolation of older adults living in senior living communities throughout the U.S. Teaming up with in-home care providers, however, may be the key to the company’s future, according to co-founder and CEO Kyle Rand.
Overall, Rendever works with more than 100 senior living communities, recently expanding its footprint to Canada and Australia.
Its list of past and present clients includes Benchmark Senior Living’s Norwood, Massachusetts, community, where Rendever helped residents experience the New England Patriot’s 2019 Super Bowl parade. It also includes Maplewood Senior living, which has brought Rendever into more than a dozen of its assisted living sites.
Due to shifting consumer preferences and the booming nature of the business, Rendever has made in-home care relationships a long-term goal moving forward, Rand told Home Health Care News.
Despite those ambitions, breaking into the in-home care industry comes with its inherent challenges. One of the major barriers to entry for Rendever, for example, has been a lack of internet connectivity within the home setting.
“For people receiving home health and home care, Wi-Fi isn’t always available,” Rand said. “Even when the internet is available, there is an increased tendency in the demographic for it to be [an] ethernet cord-based [connection] rather than a wireless router. When there is a wireless router installed, finding the password is an afterthought and makes the operational side difficult.”
Broadly, virtual reality technology creates a computer-generated environment that allows users to immerse themselves in a virtual world or experience using a variety of devices, including a headset in the case of Rendever.
Costs for the Boston-based Rendever’s services typically range from $300 to $400 per month for content and services plus $1,000 for the hardware kits.
Combating social isolation
Originally, Rendever found that virtual reality could be a way to address some of the common health and well-being issues that senior housing residents face, sparking the idea behind the company.
“We really looked at the senior housing space as our focus,” Rand said. “It wasn’t that we were talking about VR and then starting looking at senior housing — it was the opposite. When we starting digging into the data we found that this problem of social isolation is pretty dangerous for seniors. If you look into the data there are serious co-comorbidities attached to it, as far-reaching as an increased rate of cognitive decline.”
Generally, social isolation increases the risk of poor health and mortality and has a major impact on Medicare costs.
In fact, social isolation costs an estimated $6.7 billion in additional federal spending annually, according to a 2017 study from AARP, which deemed it a social determinant of health.
Arguably even more so than in senior living, social isolation is a frequent pain point for home health patients and home care clients, many of whom are homebound with limited access to the outside world.
“We designed our platform so that seniors can be wearing headsets and can all be experiencing the same thing at the same time,” Rand said. “They are traveling the world, checking off bucket list items, going to their childhood homes, but they are all doing this together. Plus, there is a conversational platform built on top of that and staff are encouraged to drive the conversation around these experiences.”
Unlike the typical VR-experience Rendever zeros-in on the needs of older adults. For example, the company utilizes a variety of techniques to allow older adult residents to be immersed in their childhood home.
VR in the home
Despite operational barriers, Rendever has already begun making its way into the home, mainly through the hospice side at the moment. The company partnered with Continuum Care Hospice — a Pleasanton, California-based care provider — to bring VR experiences to its end of life patients.
“What makes them unique and … able to do this was that they set up all of their hospice workers with [Wi-Fi] hot spots,” Rand said. “This may seem so simple, but it’s pretty rare. They made the investment that every single person that is going out and visiting clients has a hotspot. They are able to use VR because they are bringing Wi-Fi with them, and what we’ve seen is that’s not typically the case. That’s what’s preventing [companies] from being able to bring high-tech into the home.”
While the focus of Rendever services is providing VR experiences for older adults, one could potentially see a future where this kind of technology is used for the purpose of training in-home caregivers as well.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles-based Embodied Labs created a virtual reality experience that allowed caregivers to see what it would be like to die in hospice care.
Additionally, a handful of nursing programs — which historically have focused on training in facilities and acute settings — are using VR technology and other simulations to show students what it’s like to work in the home.
Generally, virtual reality that activates training simulations could be a real value add for in-home providers looking to elevate employee training.
Keeping seniors in mind
The idea of innovating services that cater to older adults is nothing new, as the U.S. population continues aging at a rapid pace. Companies providing services in this space must become increasingly more creative.
That leaves room for companies working outside of aging services to throw their hats in the ring, creating products and services for older adults. Over the last few years alone, they have included Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Lyft, for instance.
As a senior housing-focused company leveraging tech and not vice versa, Rendever has a unique vantage point within the market.
But as companies look toward technology partners and innovation, whether the product or service actually works should remain top of mind, Rand said.
“It can’t just be innovation for the sake of innovation,” he said. “This is true in all industries but especially true in this one. What you see is people who build products, looking at the likely increase in the size of this demographic and see dollar signs. [Companies] going in totally [aging] illiterate leads to operators and providers potentially spending money on a product that does not have seniors at the forefront. If you aren’t designing with seniors at the forefront, you are going to be creating a bad user experience.”
Interested in learning more about the rise of senior living virtual reality? Click here to access Senior Housing News’ deep-dive report.