Virtual Reality Ain’t Just for Kids – Dallas Startup MyndVR brings the virtual world to our country’s oldest citizens
Residents at senior homes face a wide range of challenges on a daily basis. Seniors are especially vulnerable to isolation which can lead to depression and anxiety. The Dallas startup MyndVR aims to help offset these challenges by promoting health and wellness using an unlikely source: Virtual Reality (VR).
Founded in 2016, MyndVR was the brainchild of Chris Brickler and Shawn Wiora. Brickler is a former Hollywood producer, Silicon Valley technologist, and entrepreneur while Wiora worked for years in executive senior care. With their combined expertise, the two designed a personalized Virtual Reality experience with seniors and their unique needs in mind.
In collaboration with the University of Texas at Dallas and Samsung, MyndVR offers a handsfree VR headset using gaze-based navigation. This means users can simply pick content with just a look instead of a button or a joystick since clicking is often difficult for the elderly. Similar to music therapy which was found to have positive effects on mood, the multi-sensory experience of Virtual Reality has a significant impact on seniors’ wellbeing. Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients in particular benefited from VR use. It is common for these patients to take mood-altering medication to manage their condition but this often causes patients to feel withdrawn and unengaged. With the VR handset, in contrast, patients’ moods were markedly boosted without the need for medication. Brian Barnes, the CFO/COO of The Legacy Senior Communities, recalled, “In one case, a resident living with Alzheimer’s exhibited personality traits she had prior to the diagnosis, including dancing, smiling and singing.”
For Brickler, giving seniors a sense of choice in the VR experience was important. He said, “We wanted to create a sense of empowerment with seniors around their choice of content and personal journeys.” These journeys include but are not limited to swimming with dolphins, attending a 1950s-style speakeasy jazz club, and taking a nostalgic trip to Paris. Dr. Ryan McMahan of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science explained that there are three ideas behind the VR experiences, “Either they’ll see something they’ve experienced before, which could bring about memories; experience a place they’ve never seen before, which engages the brain; or experience something that’s completely impossible — the unique domain of virtual reality.” Brickler hopes that one day, MyndVR will produce prescriptive digital therapy to provide content based on the user’s diagnosis.
MyndVR conducted trials this past year in Kansas, Florida, California, and Texas with nearly 300 seniors from ages 70 to 100. The startup hopes a mass launch of its product in 2018. It is also partnering with the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas to maintain ongoing research of the effects of the technology on their users’ brains.
Brickler stated, “The elderly population still have minds that function and still have curiosity. They may not be as sharp as younger people, but at the end of the day, there’s a thirst for knowledge, recreation and therapy, and we think virtual reality might be part of the solution.”
MyndVR in partnership with the University of Texas demonstrates how R&D is changing the world for the better. Are you also doing engaging in R&D experiments to tailor technology to senior populations? Did you know that If you conduct your R&D projects in universities, you could receive up to an additional 20% credit for your expenses? To find out more, please contact a Swanson Reed R&D Specialist today.
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