Chris Brickler is CEO of MyndVR, a start-up company dedicated to providing virtual reality (VR) experiences designed for seniors. For Chris, it’s the perfect culmination of a career as a Hollywood producer, Silicon Valley technologist and all-around entrepreneur. For co-founder Shawn Wiora, it was an organic move as well. Shawn brings 10 years in executive senior care to the partnership, and adds keen insights into the special cognitive needs of seniors. MyndVR is a convergence of their shared vision into a hybrid VR network, designed to deliver content to seniors at all levels of care.
Get ready for a “dose” of how virtual reality may redefine the tools used to keep seniors engaged with life—and much more.
By Bill Pemberton, Editor
SAVVY SENIOR LIVING PROVIDERS understand that creating an environment that engages the mind and imagination is a key to happy and contented residents. However, a hard reality for most senior providers is that some residents still face feelings of isolation, which can result in anxiety and depression. One emerging antidote for feeling isolated is a “dose” of virtual reality, administered in a personalized manner to seniors who may otherwise resort to mood medications that can have unpleasant side effects.
Natural calming influences for seniors are nothing new. Much attention has already been given to incorporating therapeutic modalities, including music—via personalized playlists—to calm patients and evoke fond old memories and positive emotions. Indeed, scientists have established that music can create a state of well-being on a profound level. So, it was inevitable that when a more powerful, multi-sensory technology like virtual reality headsets became available, it would find application among seniors.
For healthy residents in independent living and assisted living, VR experiences can mean building engagement with multi-sensory inputs that stimulate their mind to preserve mental and emotional wellness. However, for dementia patients, perhaps the hardest job for caregivers is dealing with the dramatic mood swings characterized by anxiety, agitation and depression that play out in erratic behaviors. The traditional answer has been strong medication, such as anti-psychotics, to soothe the patient into a more manageable state. But that approach often leaves patients listless and withdrawn.
Enter MyndVR—a start-up VR company founded exclusively with seniors in mind, and particularly with a view to elevating mood and outlook. With support from Samsung and the University of Texas at Dallas, MyndVR has developed a breakthrough, handsfree VR headset that allows users to select content by merely looking at content icons within their VR goggles—a feature called gaze-based navigation. This is a major convenience for seniors who weren’t part of the “joystick generation.” Content is downloaded from cloud-based content network via a wireless headset—and is customized to the user’s needs. As their slogan says, “It’s My Mind.”
“We put the Y into the spelling of Mynd to make a point about our user experience,” says Brickler. “We wanted to create a sense of empowerment with seniors around their choice of content and personal journeys.” MyndVR believes that freedom of choice is a particularly soothing aspect of the MyndVR package, since seniors with dementia often have limited independence. They develop and curate content designed to both bolster wellness and deliver therapeutic benefits.
More than a technology provider, MyndVR considers itself a custom content network for seniors. Boldly bypassing millennials, MyndVR also leap-frogged over primarily entertainment content, and is developing and testing specialized VR content that can be highly individualized. Now, after field trials at senior communities around the nation, MyndVR has validated their new content – seniors often weeping with joy as they swim with dolphins, take a nostalgic trip “back” to Paris, or find themselves in a ‘50s-style speakeasy jazz club, complete with crooner and patrons enjoying the music. It’s all totally immersive.
Not surprisingly, senior care staff who witnessed the trials have confirmed marked decreases in mood-related behavior issues that so often define the dementia experience. These staffers are euphoric about such outcomes—and find a special level of fulfillment in administering these therapies. MyndVR is also pioneering the best and safest ways to enjoy this fully-immersive experience, which always includes being seated safely in a chair with a caregiver ready to tap the viewer gently “back to reality.”
There’s a growing body of evidence that MyndVR works in even more amazing ways—and in ways nobody quite imagined. Several elderly VR viewers found physical benefits, such as being able to have a visual experience despite macular degeneration, and others experienced relief from chronic vertigo. The power of the mind over body to produce health outcomes has long been recognized. The power to lead the mind into customized healing experiences is just beginning to dawn.
To further build out their evidence-based platform, MyndVR is partnering with the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas. Sophisticated testing with brain imaging equipment will yield more detailed insights into what virtual reality experiences are accomplishing in the brains of seniors. Local market testing continues as well. Senior communities around the country have been lining up to be considered as beta customers for the MyndVR product in 2017. The company sees 2018 as a breakthrough year where mass adoption will be widely available.
This type of unconventional technology could create a “digital divide” between senior living communities that lean into technology for seniors and those who don’t. The brands that invest now in such technology—for both enhanced lifestyle and improved health outcomes—will establish leads that will be hard to overcome by competitors. The residents are the big winners, and when they win, those supporting them win as well.
The future is here, and it suggests that the next frontier for the 21st century will be an inner odyssey of the human mind. That could prove most fortuitous for an aging population. For providers of senior housing and care, it can also provide an unprecedented power to improve the lives of those most impacted by aging. Having that kind of impact can contribute to higher job satisfaction and better staff retention rates. And from a sales and marketing perspective, offering VR capabilities as a most valuable and enjoyable amenity can set their communities lightyears ahead of the competition.
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