Virtual reality is more than entertainment for senior living residents

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Chris Brickler
Chris Brickler

Senior living communities constantly are looking for innovative ways to bring the latest technology to their residents and positively affect their lives in ways that extend well beyond entertainment.

Virtual reality, or VR, may hold the promise of delivering therapeutic benefits that possibly could reduce symptoms of diseases experienced by older adults, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, macular degeneration and more, as well as increase their sense of well-being and overall happiness.

At MyndVR, we are bringing a proprietary VR solution with customized content to senior living communities across the country, allowing residents to escape to a place they may have never been or will never get to go. We're looking to improve the lives, cognitive outcomes and overall health of seniors across the continuum of care, from independent living to those with diagnoses including Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, macular degeneration and Parkinson's disease.

What have we learned? Over the past year, we've observed positive outcomes from our large-scale nationwide pilot at senior living communities in New York, California, Texas, Florida and Kansas. During the pilot, we observed reductions in feelings of isolation, triggering of memories and uplifted spirits. We saw some residents who felt relief from symptoms of their disease, such as one man in Plano, TX, who was able to see clearly for a short time after using VR even though he has macular degeneration. We provided the unique, original content for residents to enjoy, including visiting a nightclub in New York, watching a live art demonstration and playing with animals — a favorite of many older users.

The feedback from the communities that participated was fantastic. The seniors were joyful and experienced a fulfilling sense of purpose and connection while using the device and seeing the unique curated content, they said. The communities also noted many improvements in residents' moods.

One woman with dementia was having a bad day, but once she put on the goggles, her mood completely changed. She was “playing with animals” and became more relaxed and cheerful.

Another resident who has mild dementia cried tears of joy as she conducted an orchestra. She was able to remember her time teaching music, which was heartwarming to see.

We're hoping VR can be another tool communities can use as a lifestyle piece and possible therapeutic avenue to improve the lives of residents. The goggles even are equipped with gaze-based navigation, which allows older adults to just look at the menu to select where they want to “go” that day.

We are encouraged and inspired by the results of our trial, which are a good indication of the promising future of VR. This isn't something just for millennials and gamers anymore.

We now are taking our findings from the pilot and using them in our Mynd Momentum solution. We are planning a commercial launch soon, as well as clinical trials.

We — our company, the senior living communities in our pilot and other communities using VR — are helping to change the way people think of VR by demonstrating what content works best and observing the benefits this technology has for older adults.

Chris Brickler is the CEO and co-founder of MyndVR, which uses a new network of virtual reality experiences in an effort to improve the cognitive health and happiness of the aging population. From Texas to London to Los Angeles to Silicon Valley, Brickler has managed large business units at Verizon, British Telecom, AT&T and Guidespark and has served on the boards of a NASDAQ company and several nonprofit organizations. From a creative perspective, he has produced a large library of video projects with Disney, Sony, Microsoft, Dole Foods, Restoration Hardware, pricewaterhouseCoopers, Aetna, Hewlett-Packard and Bose, along with several start-ups.

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes marketplace columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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