At Inspīr, technology is essential to everything we do. So much so, that we created an entire suite of technologies and named it the Allī technology suite. Designed to enhance safety, health, happiness, and promote resident connectedness, Allī features everything from virtual reality to Alexa-enabled care concierge and live streaming adult education programming.
One particular technology that has proven to be a great addition to our lifestyle platform is virtual reality (VR). Whether it is used purely to entertain, or as a therapeutic tool, we see VR as having tremendous potential for our residents. With VR, we can help residents continue to explore the world or help spark old memories that bring them joy. To deliver this immersive experience, we have partnered with Rendever.
More than a trip around the world or down memory lane, VR promotes connection and conversation among people, too. This is so important because as people age, they often become isolated from society due to health and movement limitations, or dementia and Alzheimer’s. As social beings, this kind of isolation has negative effects, not only limited to loneliness. It can also exacerbate health problems, increase cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease. According to Scientific American, “Loneliness has been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day.”
Steve Cole, Ph.D., Director of the UCLA Social Genomics Core Laboratory, has done research funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to focus on understanding the physiological pathways of loneliness. He spoke about the effects loneliness can have on altering the tendency of cells in the immune system to prevent inflammation. “Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases,” Dr. Cole said. “The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body.”
Cue Rendever. Founded a mere three years ago, Rendever has helped to transform programming available to seniors, including those residing in our sister Maplewood Senior Living communities. Kyle Rand, CEO of Rendever, told us how the idea came to fruition. “I saw the negative effects of social isolation take a toll on my grandmother as she dealt with the aging process. When I first saw seniors react to virtual reality, I knew there was something more powerful to dive into and have spent the last three years pouring my heart into a product that I know my grandmother would be proud of.”
So how does it work? Residents wear comfortable compact headsets similar to goggles. The system has six key features to begin the VR journey.
Activity Guides are custom-built journeys of “must see” spots inspired by walking tours.
Search enables residents to search a specific place in the world, like a childhood home or the church they were married in.
Explore takes residents anywhere in the world and is a middle ground between Activity Guide and the limitless possibilities of Search.
Videos include an extensive library of immersive experiences, like swimming with dolphins or flying in a hot air balloon.
Applications (Apps) are interactive games to keep residents engaged, both mentally and physically—these are often activities they can do as a group.
Residents feature allows family members to upload photos and videos to the platform to create personal life stories.
Brian Geyser, Chief Clinical Officer at Inspīr and Director of Maplewood Senior Living Center for Aging and Innovation & Technology, has been integral in this collaboration with Rendever. Brian told us, “Residents and their families really love having Rendever as an activity option. It’s a social thing. They talk about the experiences later at dinner. To me, it helps with the happiness factor, which is a very important piece of what we offer.”
Virtual reality can also be used in reminiscence therapy for dementia and Alzheimer’s residents. This therapy, while typically done with a caregiver either flipping through an old photo album or listening to favorite music, can now be done with Rendever. The program can take them back to “visit” their childhood home, the chapel where they were married, or perhaps somewhere they went on a vacation. It is an effective way for memory recall. Amazingly, it also improves heart health, lowers stress, and helps with social interaction. What’s nice is that a group of dementia or Alzheimer’s residents can all participate in the same experience, spurring on conversation and engagement.
For residents who have minimal mobility, virtual reality gives them the opportunity to check a few more things off their “bucket list.” Never visited Paris? Take a virtual tour of the famous city. Wish you could swim with dolphins? Check! Always wanted to go to Ireland? Sit down and visit those green fields. And of course, couples or groups can take the same trip simultaneously, so they can all head to dinner and talk about it around the table.
Stay tuned for our next blog post to learn more about Care Concierge Services at Inspīr.