Boston-headquartered Rendever launched in 2016 with the core driving principle that the foundation of all human connection is shared positive experiences. Today, using virtual reality, it’s alleviating social isolation in senior living communities and bringing loved ones together
➨ Rendever has one of the largest libraries of virtual reality content around, built with shared experiences in mind
➨ Its platform is being used by high-profile senior living operators, including Revera, Benchmark, and SRG, and healthcare systems such as UCHealth and Cleveland Clinic
➨ Rendever has released Connection Corner and EnvisionHome this year
The sadness and grief that strikes a family when their loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are emotions that are difficult to reflect in words. However, there is hope thanks to companies such as Rendever, developer of a virtual reality platform that helps seniors overcome social isolation, which are working to alleviate the symptoms, even if the underlying disease remains, at least for now, unconquerable.
Stacie Carlton’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease to such an extent that her short- and long-term memory are unreliable, meaning that grandmother and granddaughter often struggle to connect. The duo was awarded an ‘experience grant’ through Rendever’s Expanding Impact programme, and when Stacie’s grandmother put on the headset, she immediately found herself immersed in a room full of golden retriever puppies. Right away, she lit up and said, “Oh my goodness!”
Rendever’s vast library of experiences are intentionally designed to generate a spark that can ignite that connection. “For me, I found great hope in it,” Stacie says. “Here was a new way that I could connect with my grandmother, which isn’t something that’s easy to do anymore.”
“My grandmother grew up on a farm,” Stacie explains, “so she enjoyed the animal experiences the most.” Stacie’s grandmother was also able to revisit Melbourne in Australia, where she lived when she was a young woman.
As well as the immediate positive experience that virtual reality can generate, Rendever’s chief aim is to establish a connection between seniors and their families. In the case of Stacie and her grandmother, they were able to spend time together, understand one another and, ultimately, reconnect in a meaningful way.
Stacie is not always able to elicit a response from her grandmother as to what she likes or dislikes, so, through a process of trial and error, found the best content with which to generate joy and surprise. In this way, feedback was sought and given, allowing them to spend time in each other’s company.
“After we took the headset off, I would keep the tablet containing the content with me because my grandmother found that interesting to watch,” Stacie says. “We continued to talk about the content and watch things together. I found this really fulfilling.”
Rendever chief executive officer Kyle Rand, who saw first-hand the negative effects of social isolation on his own grandmother, says Stacie’s connection with her grandmother typifies exactly what the platform aims to achieve.
He says: “Every single Rendever experience is a conversational prompt, a means for whoever is overseeing a session to build engagement and direct conversations.”
“This is where the magic happens. Virtual reality offers an experience for the user, but if you can get them to engage and talk about it during the session and after the headset comes off, friendships begin to form. And that’s what tackling social isolation is all about.”
‘As a foundational element of a relationship, trust is key’
Boston-headquartered Rendever launched in 2016 with the core driving principle that the foundation of all human connection is shared positive experiences.
Senior living communities are places where those relationships may be difficult to forge, resulting in statistics such as this that Rendever and Rand can offer in support of a need for interventions: “There’s a point in the aging process when a person’s access becomes limited. In senior living communities, more than 50% of residents will experience depression and isolation during their stay. Virtual reality is the perfect intervention to combat this situation.”
Today, Rendever has one of the largest libraries of virtual reality content around, built with shared experiences in mind. And its platform is being used by high-profile senior living operators, including Revera, Benchmark, and SRG, and healthcare systems such as UCHealth and Cleveland Clinic.
Typically, senior living residents join a group session led by a practitioner. They then check off bucket list items together, revisit meaningful places and share stories, stay engaged with family members, and more.
Rand says residents and their families are the key stakeholders to convince providers that the Rendever platform should be a part of their lives, because it ensures quality of life alongside that of care.
He says: “When you see someone, especially if they’re fighting depression or not really thriving, smile, laugh and engage, that kind of transition is where the magic exists. It’s difficult to explain that feeling.”
There is also a strong foundation in research indicating that virtual reality can combat social isolation. In 2017, Rendever and MIT AgeLab conducted a study with 64 participants at Benchmark Senior Living to examine the technology’s efficacy in improving residents’ wellbeing. One group used Rendever’s platform and took part in shared experiences, while another group watched the same content on a flat screen television.
Kyle says: “The virtual reality group had a statistically significant decrease in their depression scores, an increase in multiple measures of social health, and a significant increase in trust.”
“That last result was exciting, because as a foundational element of a relationship, trust is key.”
Rendever went on to apply for federal funding and in 2019 the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a division of the National Institutes of Health in the US, awarded the company a grant to test the potential for impact of its virtual reality platform on residents experiencing some form of cognitive decline and their adult children who live at a distance.
This study is exciting for Rendever because it not only covers residents but their family, too, who often experience ‘caregiver guilt’ when they place an elderly member of their family into care.
After shipping virtual reality headsets to family members and carrying out a baseline telephone call to establish the nature of the participants’ relationship, Rendever carries out group sessions featuring bucket list and travel experiences.
Then, through a new feature on the Rendever platform, participants go on a reminiscence journey and experience locations and activities based on positive memories, such as a childhood home, highschool or place of work.
Finally, study participants are given access to a virtual family room where they, embodied as avatars, sit on a couch and look at uploaded personal photos and videos.
Delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, this study is ongoing. Rendever recently submitted its phase two clinical trial application. The results collected so far demonstrate the power of shared experiences and of virtual reality in helping to deliver them.
Participating residents demonstrated significant increases in positive emotions and decreases in negatives ones, and significant increases in quality of life. Crucially, emotional closeness between family members increased significantly, and residents’ feelings of isolation from their family decreased significantly.
Rand says: “All the signs are pointing to improving quality of life, but also to improving the quality of relationships.”
‘The perfect use case for virtual reality’
The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a terrible effect on senior living communities worldwide, causing the very social isolation that Rendever is tackling, by confining residents to their rooms and preventing social programmes from taking place and family members from visiting.
In response, Rendever has worked to add new features and capabilities to its virtual reality platform. Most recently, the company released Connection Corner, which allows residents in senior living communities to come together and socialise through avatars in a virtual environment.
Staff members have the ability to personalise avatars for each participant, ensuring residents ‘recognise’ one another in the virtual environment and feel connected to their peers. The virtual space is a warm, modern living room with plenty of seating, bookshelves, and inspiring artwork.
Connection Corner, along with the addition of two-way voice communication and live, expert-run sessions, senior living communities can overcome the enforced isolation inherent in lockdown.
Rendever customer Health PEI was selected as a beta user prior to the launch of Connection Corner. Paul Young, an administrator for the health authority of Prince Edward Island, a Canadian province, reported: “The need to quarantine has been difficult, of course, but Rendever has been a real bright spot for our residents and patients. We have been amazed at how quickly they’ve released new features addressing the ‘new normal’ so that our community could continue to benefit from this amazing technology.”
“The Connection Corner is simple in concept, but our residents and patients—particularly those that haven’t been able to visit friends on different floors, neighbourhoods, or even in different buildings—are absolutely loving it.”
Another tool developed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic is EnvisionHome, a sales and marketing tool to enable senior living providers to deliver virtual tours of their properties in a safe and socially distanced way.
Rand describes virtual tours as “the perfect use case for virtual reality.” With EnvisionHome, senior living providers can provide prospective residents and their families with an immersive 360° guided tour of a potential home, using only a few headsets and a tablet.
They get to explore the property, while sales staff can see where family members or prospective residents are looking in real time to tailor their discussions toward features they find most interesting.
EnvisionHome suits the senior living industry, Rand explains, because providers are organised under corporate groups that tend to operate dozens of properties, so if a prospect doesn’t prefer the one they are shown initially, sales staff can quickly showcase other properties better suited to their preferences.
Senior living providers are also able to redeploy Rendever’s virtual reality platform for its core application, resident engagement, free of charge, demonstrating to prospects that they are innovative organisations where resident quality of life is as important as quality of care.
Rendever currently works with more than 200 senior living communities and a number of hospitals. Going forward, Rand sees the company’s role as that of a partner that aims to give its clients what they need, as was the case with Connection Corner and EnvisionHome.
The priority is to work with senior living communities to develop and deliver the technology and tools they need to combat social isolation. Rand concludes: “We have enabled senior living communities to overcome several challenging issues this year and it’s important that we keep doing that, as a partner that works with them to achieve our shared goal—improving quality of life for the older adults that we are dedicated to serving.”