We’ve covered seniors and hearing loss, including the incredible regenerative benefits of music for brain health. There are even technologies that help senior living communities keep residents engaged with hearing assistance that adjusts individual sound for multiple residents simultaneously — a real boon considering that by age 85, 80 percent of people have some degree of hearing loss.
But aside from exhorting seniors to get their eyes checked, visual stimulation hasn’t been addressed with the same vigor. Until now.
NuEyes, profiled here, functions like digital hearing aids for the eyes, and is certainly a blessing for those with low vision. However, it’s still a pricey out-of-pocket expense for someone who relies on Medicare or other insurance to cover health care costs (unless they have a HELOC or HECM, which might be an excellent resource to tap for health restoration until wearable technology becomes a reimbursable expense.)
Similarly, Oculus, a virtual reality company that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg bought in 2014, could soon enable a doctor sitting in San Francisco to see patients in a clinic in Kenya. The VR headgear would allow the user to move around and interact with people in the distant environment, participating in research, treatment — possibly even surgery. Impressive.
A fully immersive experience
While these visual breakthroughs are very valuable, they don’t directly address the need of seniors who are homebound or unable to travel, and longing to see the sights they remember from years gone by, even just the everyday experiences they can no longer physically access: movies, museums, concerts. Or maybe they long to attend their granddaughter’s college graduation, taking place in a far-flung locale.
Enter Jake Kahana, a New York-based designer and film director who recognizes that while VR is a hot button for Millennials, seniors are the fastest-growing population cohort, and are much more likely than their grandchildren to become armchair travelers. So Kahana created BettVR With Age, a series of VR films that explores how we can use virtual reality to improve the quality of life for seniors and people with limited mobility.
He began with immersive research, visiting centers such as DOROT, a non-profit organization whose goal is to alleviate social isolation and provide concrete services to older adults, in order to discover what seniors might find useful in a VR experience. MIT startup Rendever, which helps seniors living in care facilities “relive, reconnect, and re-inspire”, supplied the software.
Days of Future Past
Kahana then created ten films, from a violin concert to a dance rehearsal, a World War II-era theatre performance to a museum tour. Combined with Google Maps’ VR app, Kahana was able to “send” bedbound 78-year-old Craig Palmer to Amsterdam, Stonehenge (a favorite vacation site of his), and a stretch of Broadway where the former singer and actor lived and worked for many years. He was even able to poke his head backstage at an Upper West Side nightclub he often visited — all without leaving his apartment.
After the fifteen-minute VR excursion down memory lane concluded and Kahana removed the headset, he asked for Palmer’s feedback. Ever the actor, Palmer grinned and replied, “It was awesome. But it would be better if I had a scotch.”
More Than Fun and Games
And virtual reality offers more than just a good time. It can be a game-changer for senior health and mood, which may be especially helpful for your reverse mortgage clients and prospects who are choosing to age in place.
Dennis Lally, co-founder of Boston-based Rendever, says VR is being studied as a way to reduce pain, anxiety, stress and social isolation. “With VR, it’s now possible to track the human interaction with virtual tasks and leverage virtual reality analytics to measure the success of these activities.” Massachusetts General Hospital is in the process of testing Rendever for such outcomes.
In San Francisco, physician Sonya Kim developed Aloha VR to help depressed and agitated patients to a better quality of life. She’s witnessed violent dementia patients become more relaxed after using VR.
Finally, VR headsets are making significant inroads into long-term-care facilities. The resident engagement director at one assisted living and memory care community reports, “Five minutes after they try VR, they are so stimulated. It’s a mood changer. They are laughing and smiling and engaged.”
Rendever is now in more than 30 senior facilities; by year-end 2017, they plan to be in several hundred nationwide. And it might be just the ticket for a HECM client who, while happy the HECM allows her to remain at home as she ages, would dearly love to do some armchair traveling.
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