Virtual reality system for assisted living, memory care wins prize

An assisted living resident tries the virtual reality system. (Photo: MIT)
An assisted living resident tries the virtual reality system. (Photo: MIT)

A startup aimed at using virtual reality systems to benefit assisted living and memory care residents recently won the $25,000 grand prize at a pitch competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rendever will use the money from the MIT Sloan Healthcare Innovations Prize to help fund further research and development of its technology, according to MIT. The technology already has been tested at Brookdale Senior Living and is being tested at Benchmark Senior Living, the school said.

The company was founded by Dennis Lally, an MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management who is now Rendever's CEO, and classmate Reed Hayes, whose mother-in-law reportedly felt isolated and depressed at the assisted living community where she lived.

The Rendever system includes multiple virtual reality headsets, custom software and a tablet computer. The software syncs headsets together so users can experience a virtual world together that could include a childhood home, an exotic locale, a sporting event or a relative's wedding. The headsets can be controlled simultaneously by caregivers, using the tablet. All content is custom-made by Rendever, based on 20 million gigabytes of content from the internet.

In addition to serving as a tool for socializing, the system can be used for reminiscence therapy, according to MIT. Rendever also hopes to leverage virtual reality data to aid in diagnosing dementia.

The company said it tested the system at a Brookdale community in Massachusetts and found that overall resident happiness increased by 40%. The MIT AgeLab is helping to validate the study findings.

At Benchmark, the technology's ability to improve assisted living residents' social and emotional well-being is being tested.

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