Rendever: Bringing Virtual Reality to Seniors

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( ENSPIRE Health & Wellness ) Rendever Helps Eliminate Social Isolation in Senior Living Communities with Virtual Reality Technology

ENSPIRE Contributor: Abby Ladner

In senior care communities, it’s not uncommon for residents to feel lonely and isolated. Since the onset of COVID-19, that problem has gotten worse. In fact, the number of older adults who report feeling isolated from others doubled during the pandemic. Now, Rendever is working to alleviate loneliness for seniors living in care facilities and prove that social distance does not mean social isolation.

Rendever, founded by Kyle Rand and Thomas Neumann, is a technology company bringing virtual reality to senior living homes. With their VR headsets, residents can tour countries across the world, visit the street they grew up on, or even join a family gathering from a distance. Read the interview below with Rendever CEO and cofounder Kyle Rand to learn more about Rendever and its mission to eliminate social isolation for seniors.

Where did the idea for Rendever come from?

Many of our team members, including myself, have seen the impact of social isolation firsthand. During my senior year of college, my grandmother was diagnosed with her second round of cancer. My family made the difficult decision to move her into a senior living community so she would have the highest quality care, but we quickly noticed the toll that social isolation took on her and the other residents. It was heartbreaking. 

When we came together and took a closer look at the data, we found that the long-term effects of social isolation were alarming, especially among the aging population. At the time, virtual reality was just starting to hit the mainstream. To us, the technology offered something incredible—when you put on that headset, you can go anywhere and do anything. It offers the perfect opportunity for a demographic that has severely limited access to the world, and our initial testing showed it could create some tremendous reactions. But, the magic comes in when people get to do it together.

To this day, our core driving principle is that the foundation of all human connections is shared, positive experiences. This has been the driving force behind all of Rendever’s development and what has fostered our growth.

Who do you hope to help with Rendever?

Rendever is focused on empowering social experiences for the aging population, whether that’s through senior living communities, hospice organizations, or healthcare systems. Overall, our platform serves communities at large by including the family members of residents and the administrative staff of the communities we work with.

The Rendever platform offers a family portal that allows loved ones to stay connected, no matter the distance. Families can simply upload personal photos and videos (either traditional or 360°) from a web-based platform. This means that we can bypass any physical limitations preventing a loved one from attending a family gathering—whether it’s a momentous occasion like a wedding or an everyday family barbeque in the backyard. The family can capture the experience with their own VR camera and upload it directly to our platform for their loved one to see. From there, staff can assist the resident in putting the headset on and let them be a part of the event.

In addition to helping residents connect with their families, we’re working to connect residents to the staff and each other. When someone moves into a community, they’re often leaving behind decades of memories and relationships. It can be overwhelming and lonely to get to know a whole new community of people. With Rendever, a group of people all experience the same tours, activities, games, and more. Activity professionals are also prompted to ask certain questions to help keep the conversation flowing. This type of shared experience often uncovers common interests that are a starting point for building relationships. To us, the delivery of an amazing immersive experience is incredible, but it’s the conversations and friendships that grow afterward that are the real magic. 

Could you tell me more about the features of Rendever? What sort of activities or experiences can people have with the headset?

In order for us to be true to our mission, our entire platform has been designed to be a social experience. There’s an incredible infrastructure backing every magical moment. Our headsets are networked together so that participants all experience the same thing at the same time. With Rendever, participants can check off bucket list items, like going skydiving or riding in a hot air balloon. In VR, the world is truly their oyster. Users can revisit meaningful places, like their childhood home, or tour famous cities and landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Pyramids in Egypt. We craft each of these opportunities to be a true experience and create tools for our communities to lead them as well-organized programs.

On top of that, we also offer expert-run tours twice a week to all of our communities with our RendeverLive™ program. This allows all of our enterprise clients to come together in the same session—with community partners across North America and Australia, this means we’re literally connecting participants across the globe. They engage, interact, and compete with embedded participation features like trivia and live chat. 

To keep things fresh, we publish new experiences for our communities every week and are always looking to partner with organizations to bring unique, once-in-a-lifetime sessions to the residents we serve. We recently added symphonic holiday concerts for the Christmas season and just released a chocolate factory tour in time for Valentine’s Day. 

Your mission of alleviating social isolation feels particularly timely. What impact has the pandemic had on your company and its mission?

Unfortunately, social isolation isn’t something new in senior living communities. What the pandemic did bring was a unique opportunity for us all to get a first-hand look at its impact and build a true sense of empathy. While things will likely start to return to normal later this year as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, social isolation will, unfortunately, continue to be a challenge for this demographic. Our hope, and honestly our job, is to ensure this vulnerable demographic is cared for as they’re essential to building a thriving community.

We’ve seen a growing need for tools like Rendever in the communities we serve, and the pandemic has accelerated the rate of adoption. The excitement around our platform encourages us to expand and bring participants new experiences. We released a comprehensive response to COVID-19, with a variety of product and platform updates designed to help community partners continue to offer top-of-the-line programs—even when physical distancing safety precautions are in place. For example, our two-way voice communication feature allows groups to participate in programming from their own rooms while still staying connected and maintaining the same level of conversation that is characteristic of a Rendever session. The Connection Corner gives residents in different rooms a chance to gather in a virtual community room, sitting on couches and engaging in conversation next to each other in avatar form. We also launched RendeverLive™, which offers expert-run tours twice per week for our users worldwide, ultimately freeing up time for staff and caregivers while also building a greater sense of community among all Rendever participants.

What do you hope for the future of Rendever?

The possibilities are endless in virtual reality, and Rendever is just getting started. We are always on the lookout for new content partnerships to bring exciting experiences to our clients. Our communities continuously give us feedback, and we regularly ask for requests and ideas from residents and staff to help prioritize our pipeline. We do our very best to meet these needs and provide unique experiences that bring joy and engaging conversation to the group.

We’re also looking to delve more into providing various therapies for residents. We just released MultiBrush to the larger VR ecosystem, focused on giving back to the Tilt Brush and VR art community. From there, we’re looking to connect artists to seniors through art tutorials, walkthroughs of famous art, collaborative sessions, and even, hopefully, art therapy. We’re also diving into bigger forms of reminiscence therapy, music therapy, and physical therapy. Stay tuned.

Is there a story or two of how Rendever has helped people that you’d like to share?

One of my favorite stories comes from a woman named Mickey. We visited a community in Connecticut to do a demo with a prospective customer, and about halfway through they wheeled in a woman named Mickey. Her caregiver pulled me aside and said, “Kyle, I need you to understand this woman’s journey. She joined us in assisted living, and from day one was always this amazing beacon of light. She knew everyone by name, would be the first person to say hi to you in the morning, and just always had the biggest smile on her face. She was this wealth of positivity. I want to see Mickey again.” Apparently, a few months earlier, she was diagnosed with early-stage dementia and was moved upstairs into the locked memory care unit. It hit her hard. Her biggest symptom was expressive aphasia, so she went from being one of the most outgoing boisterous personalities to all of a sudden not being able to have a conversation. She shut down and hadn’t smiled or spoken in months. So, we had her join the group, put on one of our Rendever headsets, and transported her immediately to a room of golden retriever puppies.

Almost instantly—like a light switch was just turned back on—she lit up with a huge smile on her face. She immediately started laughing, reaching out to pet the puppies, and, for the first time in a long time, she started communicating. It was pure joy, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. When she took her headset off, there was this beautiful look of astonishment on her face. My favorite part—she actually followed us out of the building, holding onto my cofounder’s arm, encouraging us to use this in school systems to help children learn because she thought it would be “just absolutely wonderful for them.” If you think about this, she went from months of not speaking to pitching us business ideas after a single session.

Now more than ever, it’s important to find innovative ways to stay connected and create shared experiences from a distance. Because of Rendever, seniors are able to travel the world, connect with family and friends, and relive their fondest memories while staying safe. Learn more about Rendever by visiting their website or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

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