Reconnecting the Elderly with the Joys of Everyday Life through Virtual Reality
Rendever is a window for older adults to rediscover a previously vanished world.
By Gökay Abacı, PULSE Intern
Rendever, PULSE 2017 Gold Winner and 2018 Alumni in Residence
Seniors make up more than 15.2% of the United States population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections, by 2030, 1 in every 5 U.S. resident will be of retirement age, outnumbering children for the first time in U.S. History. That number is growing every year as a result of the aging of the baby boomer generation, all of whom will be of retirement age in 2030.
As seniors age, it is common for health issues to arise, such as a decline in memory, difficulty in following storylines, changes in mood, and loss of mobility.
What if there was an effective and enjoyable way to connect with others to help manage some of these distressing symptoms of old age, and bring virtual reality (VR) technology to a population that can benefit from it the most?
In our PULSE@MassChallenge Spotlight series, we sat down with Kyle Rand, CEO and Co-Founder of Rendever, to discuss how his software improves elderly care by combining Virtual Reality with Reminiscence Therapy to bring joy to the eyes of elderly. Kyle and his team developed Rendever to allow seniors to hop on a virtual journey that brings the elderly to the house of their childhoods or to places they have always wanted to visit. Join us in our conversation with Kyle Rand.
How did your Entrepreneurial journey start?
During my undergrad at Duke, I studied research on Neural Prosthetics, a series of devices that can substitute a motor, sensory or cognitive modality that might have been damaged as a result of an injury or a disease. I used monkey models, and research on cognitive aging populations. I looked at the functional and structural changes that happen in the brain that correlate with declines and decision-making processes. After getting bit by a mosquito and getting sick while in a lab in northeast Brazil, I headed back to Boston, which is the perfect center for the intersection between health and technology. I did a bit more research at the Brigham and Women’s hospital, but ended up losing funding. I was sure research wasn’t for me, so I ended up joining the startup world.
Where did the idea for Rendever come from?
Rendever is developing VR experiences specifically for eldercare residents who are no longer able to venture outside and explore the world by themselves. With VR, you put on this headset and you can be anywhere in the world and do absolutely anything. What better population to apply that to then our seniors, who have an entire lifetime worth of experience but now have physical restraints and have been cut off? It was a no-brainer.
I have a pretty big tie to the senior population. Growing up, I volunteered in a senior living community, and when we moved my grandmother into a community, I had a pretty rough experience. Statistically speaking, when you move someone into a senior living community, with the infrastructure that’s in place right now, it’s reported up to 43% of seniors experience frequent intense isolation.
Research shows that isolation leads to premature cognitive decline, hypertension, and other cardiac diseases. In 2010, a report was released that tied social isolation and health implications to being as negative as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Therefore, it’s obvious to say that social isolation is bad for you. Once you see it actually happen in a community setting, it becomes obvious that work needs to be done.
We did a lot of early testing. Once you see a senior put on a headset and have a really positive experience and a huge smile come across their face, you understand what the possibilities are. It’s such a stark contrast in their day-to-day life. You play Bingo, do arts and crafts, and all of a sudden you are on top of the Eiffel Tower. The impact is huge. As soon as you see that, the rest is all about making sure we can operationalize this technology within communities. Off the shelf just doesn’t work for seniors. A lot of the industries have been burned by taking off-the-shelf technology, trying to integrate it, and then coming across barriers. We essentially re-operationalized how VR works.
What’s the technology behind Rendever?
In senior living communities they’ll have six residents wearing headsets and experiencing the same thing at the same time. Networking technology allows them to share these group experiences together.
When the seniors experience this through this networking technology, it leads to stimulation in conversation and positive valence that is otherwise lacking. We have created a family engagement portal so family members can get involved. Right from day one when you’re moving your loved one into a community, you can also go into our platform and you can create a location based journey through someone’s life.
If someone is stressed out or needs intervention, you can bring them back to these places from their past. That calms them down. It’s called Reminiscence Therapy, which is taking someone back to a meaningful location experience component of someone’s earlier life in a way that is immersive.
We bring residents back to their childhood home, to their college campus, where they got married, where they went on their honeymoon, or the first house they bought. If that resident ever has a cognitive decline or memory problems, Rendever creates a package ready to use for reminiscing.
That activation and then sharing those stories is hugely beneficial. Research from Harvard showed that Reminiscence Therapy is hugely beneficial for the seniors with cognitive decline spectrum. It’s a two folded approach.
What is elderly care lacking at this stage?
There is a high turnover rate with nurses and it is very stressful situation to be in. Providing care to seniors at end of their life is a tough and relentless task. You’re looking at a 22:1 resident to nurse ratio. Our aging population will double in the next fifteen years, and the number of nurses is not doubling. Family caregivers are picking up a lot of the slack. An infrastructure shift needs to happen where nurses are more supported and have access to technologies that can improve their lives. What we’re trying to do is increase the human aspect of what it is to care for someone, and reminding everyone about that human aspect. A group approach needs to be taken for the nursing industry.
There’s this unfortunate stereotype of senior living as old, sad nursing homes. I’ve been to the most gorgeous resort-like communities. That style is increasing. There needs to be understanding as to why senior living is beneficial. There needs to be a little bit of a re-education about what it means to move into a senior living community.
What’s your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
A few months ago, we went to this one community where there was a resident who had previously been super happy, nicely dressed, knew everyone by name, and always had a big smile on her face. She had been a beacon of light in the community, but when she was diagnosed with early dementia she was transitioned into the memory care unit. That transition really impacted her. She went from this cheerful women to someone who couldn’t form sentences. Her caregiver hadn’t seen her smile in three months.
Through VR, we put her in a room full of puppies, and all of a sudden this huge smile comes across her face; she starts clapping and talking to the puppies. After the session she took her headset off and said, “That was so incredible.” To see her go from someone who wasn’t able to put a sentence together to say this is the next business model you have to pursue, was an amazing anecdote of the power of what we’re doing:
What is Rendever’s next big challenge?
Over the past two years, we have nearly perfected this product and have been selling to senior living communities. There are so many people who are aging at home right now, and as a result, there is an estimated 35 million family caregivers throughout the U.S. who are caring for a loved one frequently. They’re incredibly burdened on an emotional and financial level. For the quality of life improvements that we see with residents and their caregivers in the community side, we want to give it to residents and family members at home. Figuring out how to make this technology work at home and distribute it to people at home is our big challenge.
Who is your role model?
Atul Gawande. I’ve heard him talk multiple times. I’ve only ever had brief conversations with him but [his book] Being Mortal is required reading for our team. It’s one of those brilliant books that really looks at what it means to be a family caregiver and what it means to go through the dying process with a loved one. I wish we could have him on our board of advisors.
During the 2017 PULSE@MassChallenge program Rendever formed a partnership with AARP through PULSE matchmaking, restructured its leadership, grew revenues by 600%, and won the Gold Award at PULSE Finale. Rendever also served as the 2018 PULSE Alumni in Residence (AiR).
- The Nation’s Older Population Is Still Growing, Census Bureau ReportsUS Census Bureau — https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2017/cb17-100.html
- 2017 National Population Projections TablesUS Census Bureau — https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2017/demo/popproj/2017-summary-tables.html
- 2015 Caregiving in the United States 2015— https://www.aarp.org/ppi/info-2015/caregiving-in-the-united-states-2015.html
- Lunstad, J. H. (2015). Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality — https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25910392
- The Most Common Issues of Aging — https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/common-issues-of-aging-102224.htm
- Nearly One in Five New Nurses Leaves First Job Within a Year— https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2014/09/nearly-one-in-five-new-nurses-leave-first-job-within-a-year--acc.html
- The Mindfulness Chronicles — https://harvardmagazine.com/2010/09/the-mindfulness-chronicles
Introducing a new “Spotlight” series, where we showcase the people who make up the PULSE@MassChallenge community, what they are doing, and why it matters. As we kickoff this series, we’d like to focus in on the winners from PULSE Finale 2017 and 2018, and find out how their wins ultimately help patients and entrepreneurs everywhere win together.