Seniors benefiting from virtual reality

With the help of virtual reality seniors are exploring national parks, scaling ancient ruins and traveling back in time to their childhood homes. An MIT startup called, Rendever, is combating the physical limitations of age by bringing VR to assisted living communities.


With the help of virtual reality, seniors are exploring national parks, scaling ancient ruins, and traveling back in time to their childhood homes.

An MIT startup called Rendever is combating the physical limitations of age by bringing V.R. to assisted-living communities.

Joining me now is the C.O.O. and co-founder of Rendever, Reed Hayes.

So, what gave you this idea in the first place?

So, we were inspired to make Rendever from personal experience, where I had a couple family members who were living in assisted-living communities throughout my life.

And every time I'd, like, go in to see them, I would notice how, like, kind of sad they were, that they weren't getting out, that they weren't able to do the things that gave them joy when they were younger.

You know, they had a hard time -- They wanted to see the family more.

They wanted to see the sports games and things, graduations.

And over time, I saw multiple times -- I knew that something could be done in this space.

You know, there was very little, you know, technology-makers, you know, designing technology for this older adult population.

And, so, I decided to go to business school to build a business around this and help address issues with isolation depression and cognition for the older adults.

How is this different than just, say, the Internet, which has photographs, which allow people to take virtual tours, so to speak?

So, the thing about older adults is -- they actually have a hard time using technology.

So even if you give them the iPad, which is pretty much one of the most simple devices to use, they get frustrated pretty quickly.

They don't have the dexterity in their fingers to actually click on Safari and type in the address they want to see.

But, also, there's a lot of research that shows that virtual reality, in its immersive 360 nature, can provide and evoke responses much more significant than just a 2-D image.

You know, for example, we took, you know, a couple dementia patients back to their childhood home.

And if the caregiver showed them their home in a 2-D image, it doesn't really evoke memories or it doesn't trigger any kind of recollection of it.

But when we put them in V.R., it was like tears of joy that they were so happy to be back home that only virtual reality could have provided.

And a 2-D image with the caregivers simply wasn't doing it.

So, what have you seen so far?

I mean, what are you showing them?

What are the examples?


What's a place that you could take them while they're sitting in their facility?

So, virtually anywhere in the world.

So, we develop algorithms that mines the Internet, from Google Street View to Flickr, that will take images, 360 panoramas, anywhere from their childhood home to the top of Mount Everest to Iceland.

Anywhere in the world they want to go, they can.

And we're also out there filming cultural events, you know, things in New York City or Boston to get them exposed to, you know, what's happening around them.

But we're also showing them things from their family.

We think that that's a big need in this space, and families want to stay connected with their loved ones.

And, so, they can watch their granddaughter walk down the aisle or maybe they watch, you know, Thanksgiving dinner or just a holiday dinner with the family.

So we're showing them things that are meaningful to them, in a new way that's not possible with just, you know, watching it on television.

So, when you say 'Thanksgiving dinner' or 'walking down the aisle,' does that mean that you are or your company is placing a 360 V.R.

camera at that location for them?

Yeah. So, we help the family get the camera, and they will give guides of how to set it up.

They put it, you know, around the table, and it has two lenses -- at least two lenses -- and it's just shooting 360 degrees.

They film it and then upload the file, and then a tablet will get the notification saying, 'You know, hey, Betty, your grandson has sent you a video.

Would you like to watch it?'

And, so, we help facilitate the families to capture and share these important life moments.

So, it's literally -- It's as if they were sitting in the center of that table and having -- and they are looking around and they're seeing their family members talk to them.

Exactly. And that's something that is -- The more research we did -- And we actually lived in a community for seven days and just really got to feel the experience of being an older adult living in these retirement communities.

And we saw that the older adults were almost desperate to be back with the family.

Like, you know, a lot of times, their family would come once a month or every other week, and they would have a time where the daughter would go pick them up.

And say it's noon.

The older adult would go down there at 9:00 a.m.

And they would say, 'Why are you going down to her so early?'

It's like, 'I don't want them to miss me.

I don't want them to forget about me.'

And so you have this strong desire for them to still stay connected with the family.

And, you know, life's getting busy, and it's hard for families to make it over there sometimes.

And, sometimes, it's just a geographic problem, where they can't get there, physically.

This enables it.

What about the virtual national-park experience from where they are?

What kind of images do you end up showing them?

Everything from Yosemite to basically all the national parks.

That's actually a pretty huge hit.

And we actually have a lot of imagery and videos of people, like, climbing some of the walls and rock climbing.

And, believe it or not, that's actually a pretty big bucket-list item for older adults.

Like, they want to do bungee jumping.

You know, they want to do all of these extreme sports.

And we get them a taste of it without, you know, any risk involved.

And, so, it's pretty funny when you do that.

And, actually, a lot of times, older adults -- you know, they have a history that we don't even know about.

You know, you think they're unassuming, but in the summer, we took a lady back to Yosemite.

And she was about 88 years old.

And she immediately began telling us a story about how she went camping out there, and the only thing she had was a sleeping bag and a shotgun.

And she was 88 years old.

You're just like, 'How is this --' You know, you had no idea.

She said she's out there for about 2 or 3 weeks.

And then she was telling us all these other stories about, you know, her time camping out there that, you know, without us showing that into virtual reality, we may have never known about.

Have you tested what's happening to their brains and how their life changes because of access to this new frontier?

Yeah. So, we have a study kicked off with MIT's AgeLab, looking at the impact of wellness, cognition, depression, that, you know, older adults using our virtual-reality system will have on them.

And, so, that study is on the way -- or under way now.

And, so, we'll have results probably in the first quarter of next year.

But there is a lot of studies and published research that shows there are benefits to using virtual reality for cognition in this population.

And, so, hopefully the science will be able to publish it, coming next year, though.

What do you see 5 years out, 10 years out, especially to this large community of people?

So, how I really see it playing out is -- virtual reality is, effectively, the portal to the Internet for this population.

What makes virtual reality different and why they can't use Internet now -- they lose dexterity.

Their fingers -- they can't touch touch-screen computers and they can't interact with the devices.

But what makes virtual reality different is -- we're not asking them to understand how file systems work.

We're not asking them to understand how profiles work.

We're only asking them to look around, do something they've done for 70-plus years.

And, so, you know, a lot of older adults -- you know, they can watch television, but they don't know how to put in a Blu-ray or turn the Blu-ray on.

And so you need to make sure, when you deploy this technology and for it actually to be used in, say, 5 or 10 years, that most people can do it in this population and in this setting.

And, so, how you design virtual reality -- you have to make it so easy that they never get frustrated with it, especially the first interaction and that, as you're building it, that it's usable and it's fun and they have an incentive to do it and they actually are being able to go and see things that are stimulating and interesting to them and not just, you know, watching, say, 'The Price is Right' or something that, you know, it's okay for them to watch, but they don't wake up early in the morning to go see it.

All right.

Reed Hayes of Rendever.

Thanks for joining us.

Thank you very much.