Virtual reality is a fun way for people to escape the mundanities of everyday life. But MIT student Reed Hayes saw its potential to do something even greater.
Many seniors in assisted living facilities feel lonely, isolated, and abandoned. Without freedom or much mental stimulation, it’s hard not to sink into depression. That’s what Reed and his classmate, Dennis Lally, set out to change with a virtual reality headset.
Reed says one of his most life-changing experiences took place inside an assisted living facility, where he met an elderly man with dementia. Slouched in his wheelchair, he appeared very disconnected from his surroundings. Then Reed placed a VR headset over his head. It featured a three-dimensional painting by Vincent Van Gogh while classical piano played in the background. The transformation was night and day.
“He started moving around, tapping his feet, laughing. He was all of a sudden much more engaged in the world, and this from someone who was slouched over, to now kind of bouncing around,” Reed said. “Dennis and I looked at each other like, ‘Holy cow, we might be onto something.’ It was remarkable.”
It was just the beginning of the impact they’d make through Rendever, their startup dedicated to improving seniors’ lives through virtual reality. In the three years since its founding, the company has brought headsets to more than 100 senior living communities across the U.S. and Canada.
The technology visually transports elderly folks wherever they want to go, whether it be their childhood home or bucket list destinations. Rendever’s headsets come with a front end Netflix style dashboard and iPad/tablet controls for caregivers. They also feature a large library of content, with more being added twice a month.
Plus, family members of seniors who subscribe to the service can upload photos or videos to its family engagement portal. They can even borrow 360-degree cameras to record weddings or vacations so grandparents can feel as if they’re actually there!
Reed recalls another woman with dementia whose only desire was to “go home.” Using his technology, he typed in the address for the woman’s former home. He says she “started crying tears of joy” and repeating, “This is the most beautiful place in the world.”
Another woman was able to experience touring the Notre-Dame cathedral.
“She was so ecstatic to be able to see this church from the inside, something she had dreamt about, and we were able to kind of fulfill a lifelong dream of hers.”
But the headsets don’t just provide wearers with a solo experience. Multiple headsets can be synced at once, connecting seniors through group activities such as scuba diving or hiking.
“Rendever sessions are educational, engaging, and fun, so it’s not uncommon to hear residents chatting about their trip to Paris or recent hot air balloon ride for days or weeks afterward,” said Al Faxon of Vermont Veterans’ Home.
Perhaps the best part about Rendever’s technology, though, is that it’s not just limited to seniors! The company has big plans to give out “experience grants” to families who’d benefit from their headsets, including cancer patients and people who’ve suffered traumatic brain injuries, strokes, and paralysis. Families can apply to receive a headset for 30 days before returning it for other families to use.
Bringing happiness and joy to others is such a wonderful gift. Because of Rendever, countless people will gain a new appreciation for life in the years to come.
Hear how virtual reality turned one woman’s around in the video below, and share to spread the news about this amazing company!
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