Jonathan Bryant from Rendever joins us to discuss virtual realty and how it can help overcome social isolation in seniors and create positive, shared experiences. As easy as putting on a headset, VR can transport seniors to far away places, increase social engagement, and improve mental health.
- Hello everybody, and welcome into "Senior Living Live". My name is Melissa. Thank you so much for being with us. In this episode, we're going to introduce you to an awesome product that can take you literally anywhere in the world without you having to leave your home. I sat down with Jonathan Bryant from Rendever to talk about this device that can help seniors just like you and your loved ones connect with experiences across the globe with the help of virtual reality. Tell us a little bit about you and your background.
- Yeah, it's my pleasure. I've been in serving senior living always on the vendor partner side for the last 13 years. I joined Rendever back in the beginning of May of 2022 after having led a company for about 10 years in the industry, also on the tech side. But having known the founders for several years I wanted a place where I could be able to find purpose and wanted to align myself with a company that really did tangible work. Our mission at Rendever is to overcome social isolation in seniors through the power of virtual reality and shared experiences. And that shared experience is really important to us. Melissa, being able to combat social isolation which has the effect on the human body of smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day. 30% increase in mortality rate, over 50% greater likelihood to attribute early onset dementia. And after I got a chance to be able to witness the Rendever platform being utilized at communities myself and just how powerful it really was. It's such an emotional experience. It's just something that I really feel blessed to be a part of. And so now I consider myself a real servant of the industry and just try to find ways to where I can be a resource in any capacity just because I love the industry so much.
- Fantastic, and I don't think you have to tell anybody after COVID about what isolation does to people to physically, mentally, it's terrible. So this product, as you mentioned, can really go a long way and in helping if that were to ever happen again. I'm gonna knock on wood, Jonathan that it never happens again. But let's dive a little bit about the actual product itself. As I said, I think it's awesome. It can totally remove the four walls that surround us and transport us to places that we've maybe been to before places we've never been to before. How does it work?
- Well, it's pretty simple, thankfully at least for the end user. And so when we come into a community because of the way that we've curated the experiences because of the way we've networked our headsets it really is a very easy way to just simply go into a session, lead a session and create this really momentous experience for residents thanks to the way we design the platform. So we, we network headsets on wifi. We make it to where if somebody even has to be isolated, if they let's say they had to go to skilled nursing because of a slip and fall, or if they were sun downing or just simply had to isolate themselves because of an illness, we are able to bring them a headset and still be a part of that experience. And that has proven worthwhile many occasions of people that don't want to miss that Rendever adventure but they can't be alongside their friends or family. So the platform exists on a tablet and the person who is leading that experience it's pretty simple for them as well. They can search whatever experience they want to they can type in an address and do reminiscence therapy to be able to bring people back to their childhood home or the church that got married. One in one of those vivid memories that in almost every form of dementia people are still able to activate their brain to come to those vivid memories of their past. We also gamify, we can play very cognitive therapy functional games as well as just to feel fuel that competitive spirit as well as have a community portal that allows the family and friend relationships those vital connections that are so powerful to us being able to thrive as we age in place and keeping those connections alive. After all, it's human connection that really makes us human to begin with. We have a need and a desire to engage one another and to interact. We just simply allow that that function to happen right there at a community or any kind of place where seniors might congregate.
- Yeah and you mentioned the tablet, so if we're talking about the things that we can see and touch, can you tell us a little bit more about the the headset that you described?
- Yeah, so we're a tech company and so our tech is usually really cool. Honestly, Melissa, every time a senior puts on a headset I feel like we're combating ageism right there. This is a really fun very comfortable experience, but we vet a lot of technology. One of our co-founders, Tom, has probably forgotten about virtual reality more about it than I'll ever know. But because he was so instrumental in building applications in the meta store, building the YouTube virtual reality platform, for example these are really awesome opportunities to have a lot of intelligence in the VR space. We have selected Pico as a partner and their headsets which are always kind of new and up and coming and technology only goes forward. And so we're always dealing with the latest and greatest technology but really the things that most align with our platform that can deliver the best experience. And so we use Samsung for our tablets and Pico for our headsets, and they've been wonderful partners.
- Yeah so we're talking visual and audio here, correct?
- That's correct, yep. The majority of our experiences will have some form of audio and it may even just be the audio that needs to come into the headset to where you feel engaged because there are a lot of experiences animals make noise. Our most popular video is a bunch of little puppies in the UK that are being raised as guide dogs. And to see them jumping all over the place. I think we gravitate to the things that elicit joy and part of that is the audio component not to mention the give and take in the conversation amongst the people in the session. So it is very much an omnichannel, if you will, experience.
- Yeah, now this product specifically designed for seniors how did that come about and why?
- Well, I like to tell this story a personal story about how my first VR experience went. I have an Oculus too and had to ask my teenage son to help me kind of set it up and to download a couple of apps. And long story short, Melissa, my VR experience ended up on the floor with a bum knee and a broken lamp as I was fighting off zombies. And while it was a really cool immersive entertaining and overwhelming experience I can't say it was the most positive one because it was so overwhelming it was really tough to get my bearings. And so when our founders created the platform as and we continue to expand upon the platform, it's done in a way that makes it, first of all just very easy to enjoy the experience by seniors but it also takes into consideration the comfort level. The fact of the matter is that VR isn't for everybody. There's this very small percentage of the population that has vertigo or an inner ear disorder that can cause vertigo or say epilepsy. I think those folks should never wear a VR headset. But for the rest of us, I think it's just a really about having the best first impression. And we start that by creating an augmented reality environment that looks like a back porch, and so has green effects and butterflies, and a fireplace. A very calm serene environment in which to acclimate to virtual reality because the immersive nature of VR can be super powerful and really a positive experience unless you're not prepared. And in order to acclimate comfortably and then go into an experience I think that there's a reason why we developed the platform the way we did. And it also alerts the person leading the session. If the experience may be a little intense, for example. I'm a bit of a thrill seeker. I've jumped out of an airplane before that would not be my first VR experience to do the same thing with a headset. So I would recommend and highly encourage people that lead sessions to start with the green videos, like the puppies, like still imagery and then work your way up. Always staying in the comfort zone of these seniors. But the way that we design the platform is that they are fully immersed, fully engaged. It can really elicit the kind of reactions that we want them to have and have that be a shared experience for all. So we're all in that same environment together enjoying having conversation. And as Kyle, our CEO says the magic really happens when the headsets come off. It's the conversation that continues that might have started in the Rendever platform, but continues to the dining room continues to a phone call amongst loved ones, guess what I got to do today? That kind of thing. And so far it's been extremely successful. We have an amazingly talented community engagement team and most of them came from senior living communities to begin with. They might have been life enrichment directors activity professionals, executive directors but thankfully the onboarding experience couldn't be more positive and instrumental. It's to the success of a new partner I think it's about making sure that people have the resources necessary to make it a positive experience for everybody. I'll tell you, Melissa no matter how cool your technology is, and we think ours at Rendever is pretty cool, but if you don't have champions people that are rabid fans of the platform and can utilize it every day for good. Then we're not living our mission in creating shared experiences and it's gonna be technology that gains dust on a shelf. And so we do everything in our power to establish a platform or a foundation, I guess I should say of what success would look like for each single community not just the provider, but each community. And then we do success meetings every month to make sure that people know how the platform is being utilized what adventures are being consumed and then what other areas might be conducive based on the residents and the care levels that they provide. I would like to think that just about every partner we have over 500 of them they success is a little bit different to each one of them. And so I think it's really about just customizing the experience to the people that are leading this session. Training and retraining is a huge component. Because let's face it, as much as we don't like it, turnover happens. It happens with volunteers, with residents, and with teammates. And we always want to continue to be training the next person that's gonna champion the platform and make sure that everybody is continuing to have regular consistent and really entertaining experiences.
- Absolutely. Now, I love real life examples, right? So what sort of feedback have you received from those who have used Rendever?
- Yeah, so I'll tell you this now. First of all, anybody can go to our website our Facebook page, our Vimeo page, our YouTube page and be able to see these real life examples. Melissa, I mean these things are really powerful. It's hard for me to get through a day. Not that I would necessarily want to without tears in my eyes, just because this is such a life-changing immersive experience. But I'll tell you two quick stories. One of them was Nick Abruzzo, my boss and our VP of sales. Nick was in a community doing experience and an adult child was there with her mother who had advanced dementia. And she asked if you could stick around they had hiked a lot of your Europe together. And even though that she had been for the most part, nonverbal for weeks she wanted to revisit some of their destinations including a tea house that I believe was in Norway. And an hour and a half later, as Nick was well past his deadline for perhaps his flight they were still just completely overwhelmed with the experience just visiting these locations. And obviously a lot of tears were shed there both from mother and daughter alike. And the daughter mentioned to Nick she hadn't had that close of an experience with her mother in about a month and a half, two months. And my own personal experience and I just learned this last week, Melissa, that when I was in an experience in a skilled nursing wing of a community of a gentleman that had very high acuity and evidently I had taken him... He was a war veteran I took him back to a couple of destinations in Europe as well as his home. And although he had passed two weeks later and I didn't know that, I heard that his mood and the way he treated his fellow residents as well as the staff was monumentally different in the two weeks after his Rendever experience. And it absolutely warmed my heart. You know, not a day goes by where I don't feel that purpose and that I don't feel like I'm changing people's lives. And I have Rendever to thank for that. Our partners are wonderful and we call our communities partners for a reason because they oftentimes though great idea generators that allow us to create new experiences based on their wishes. And so thanks to the success calls that we have every month we get a lot of really good ideas of what to curate in the future. A lot of these people welcome people to come into their communities, to experience Rendever themselves. I think that's the best part about having these kinds of partnerships. Is as long as we have people falling in love with this opportunity, then they want other people to share in it. There's a wealth of information, Melissa, and I promise you'll never get tired with seeing the real life examples of these experiences. But thankfully we run a lot of clinical trials. We're primarily grant funded ourselves and so we are always publishing with our five PhDs on staff continuing to do research on what the impacts are of virtual reality in the aging process. So we're in a lot of journals, we're in a lot of press. You're gonna see us on a lot of local television stations as they go in to show these amazing stories firsthand. But we're a wealth of information and all you have to do is reach out to us at any time and we're happy to do a demo or maybe even come in in person and be able to show it to you firsthand.