Imagine a world where your loved one can relive their favorite vacations, revisit the places they grew up, explore a city they’ve always wanted to visit, experience Broadway, or enjoy a beach sunset from the comfort and safety of their own home. They can escape the loneliness and isolation that often comes with dementia or living in care facilities, and without even leaving for appointments, they can regain mobility and train their cognitive function.
Immersive technology makes this imaginative world a (virtual) reality for many aging adults, specifically those living with dementia.
As the leading provider of Immersive Digital Therapeutics for aging adults across the U.S., Canada, and Australia, MyndVR has reimagined how virtual reality can be used to deliver digital therapeutic interventions to the aging population. The platform aims to expand treatment options and improve the quality of life, “making their window to the world bigger, their minds and bodies healthier, and their experience with aging happier.”
Virtual Reality (VR) is defined as computer-simulated versions of real locations/objects or imagined 3D graphically rendered environments. The virtual environment is updated in real-time based on the real-world movements and actions of the user, enabling users to experience the sensation of being present in a different physical place.
VR technologies have increasingly been considered potentially valuable tools in dementia-related research and care for use in cognitive and physical assessments and therapeutic interventions. VR-based interventions have even been used as health promotion tools to improve mobility, prevent falls, and train cognitive abilities in those with dementia and those at risk of developing dementia.
Recent studies suggest that VR could serve as a non-pharmacological therapy to improve quality of life. MyndVR CEO Chris Brinkler says the platform was designed to help aging people and those with Alzheimer’s disease create enjoyable habits and routines around brain-training exercises as an alternative to pharmacological intervention.
“Many seniors spend a great deal of time alone, suffering from depression, isolation, and a general lack of engagement,” Brickler says. “Adding a condition like Alzheimer’s exacerbates this issue and can greatly reduce the quality of life for seniors, and, currently, methods for managing Alzheimer’s are mostly dependent on pharmaceuticals.”
MyndVR technology builds on the approach of traditional therapies — like “music, engagement, and lively activity” — to develop a diverse collection of immersive virtual content. Brickler says this offers an exciting alternative to the day-to-day activities of a long-term care facility and helps residents feel a stronger sense of agency.
“Our library of content brings the world to our seniors, offering them things like fascinating travel experiences, engaging stories, and inspiring performing arts shows that they might otherwise not be able to experience. Instead of watching television or solving a puzzle, they can take a trip to Paris or have a front-row seat at a ‘Yo-Yo Ma’ performance.”
MyndVR technology is being used in forthcoming studies, one looking at how VR-based therapies help reduce pain, anxiety, and general distress. The other focuses on how MyndVR improves the patient/caregiver relationship.
In short, Brickler says, the effect VR has on seniors is a tremendous impact on their mood, cognition, executive function, and overall well-being.
“What we’re seeing in facilities already using MyndVR is very optimistic; seniors with cognitive impairment often have an improvement in behavior, such as a reduction of restlessness or other forms of agitation, and through using VR with a caregiver, their isolation is reduced, and their relationship is improved.”
The MyndVR CEO answers a few questions about the virtual reality technology that offers an alternative treatment and could change how we approach comprehensive care for people living with Alzheimer’s.
Q: What are digital therapeutics, and how is virtual reality-based therapy used as a treatment?
A: Broadly speaking, “digital therapeutics” is a catch-all term for the rapid transformation in how people receive treatment for health conditions. Essentially, if an illness or condition is treated, managed, or prevented through an evidence-based software program, that software is a digital therapeutic. Traditionally, these therapeutics have been delivered via smartphone apps or other devices, but the future of these therapies is virtual reality-based.
What sets virtual reality apart as a digital therapeutic is its ability to create strong, bio-mechanical responses in our minds and bodies by changing our brain’s sense of presence, essentially tricking our minds into believing we’re somewhere else and evoking a behavioral response. Virtual Reality-based therapies are focused on more complex challenges than digital therapeutics delivered on smartphones, such as occupational, cognitive, and physical therapies. For example, VR-based therapies can help seniors improve and maintain their balance or regain mobility after a fall. They also have a wealth of benefits for mental health, learning retention, and even chronic pain reduction.
Q: How does MyndVR work?
A: Our senior-friendly virtual reality content library features a diverse collection of original and licensed 360° videos carefully produced and curated to maximize positive outcomes for older adults, all in a fun and engaging way. The platform comprises three VR products available to all MyndVR users; each houses a unique collection of VR content, applications, features, and therapeutic benefits.
- MyndVR Essentials™ includes the largest library of senior-friendly virtual reality content.
- MyndVR+™ includes everything in MyndVR Essentials, plus premium VR applications for an enhanced immersive therapy experience.
- MyndVRx™ includes interactive VR experiences designed to enhance occupational, physical, and speech therapy outcomes.
Q: How can MyndVR’s technology, content, and diverse content library be used to support people living with Alzheimer’s disease?
A: When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, virtual reality has the power to evoke a strong response in a patient’s memory. Our reminiscence therapy and music therapy applications can benefit people living with the disease.
It’s not uncommon to see someone with Alzheimer’s disease light up when hearing music they grew up listening to because music affects many different parts of our brains, activating areas less damaged by the disease. MyndVR’s therapeutic activities build on this effect.
We recently launched a project called “Music and the Mynd,” a collection of musical VR Content exclusively designed to support older adults in memory care settings. It is well understood that music is one of the most impactful forms of dementia care: studies have shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety and agitation, help maintain speech and language, and even positively impact caretakers. By combining the powerful effects of music and immersion, we’re leveraging both traditional and innovative approaches to memory care to increase its effectiveness, improve its accessibility, and create a real difference in the lives of our seniors.
Our vision with this series is to capture the intimacy of a one-on-one musical performance and deliver it to aging adults needing memory care who otherwise may not be able to enjoy the personal, intimate, and healing experience of live music.
Reconnecting and reminiscing can have a profound impact on the wellness of someone with Alzheimer’s. Reminiscence therapy is an intervention that improves self-esteem and provides older individuals with a sense of fulfillment and comfort as they look back at their lives and converse with others about past experiences.
MyndExplorer™ takes older adults to the towns they lived in years ago, the parks they used to go to, and even their favorite places to vacation. This experience helps them to recall those places and the anecdotes they have in each of them, as well as stimulating interaction and the transmission of memories between users.
MyndConnect™ was designed to strengthen seniors’ relationships with family and friends by providing shared experiences that introduce new, engaging conversations, reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, and maintain lasting bonds.
MyndVRx™ is an advanced digital therapeutics solution offering older adults the opportunity to enhance physical activities, master activities of daily living exercises, and re-train the brain in a controlled virtual reality environment that allows the patient to be transported into a scenario without having to relocate. It can even help users identify potential hazards associated with activities of daily living; for example, seniors can practice medication management or identify potential trip hazards in a virtual living place.
Q: How can digital therapeutic interventions like MyndVR support caregivers?
A: Caring for our aging population is an incredibly difficult job, and it’s only getting more difficult. As things are today, there is an acute shortage of caregiving staff; it’s not uncommon to see a skewed caregiver-to-patient ratio, and with more caregivers leaving the workforce than entering it, it’s unlikely that this trend will reverse itself. It’s a difficult situation to be in, as 10,000 adults in the United States turn 65 every day. Our mission is to create an effective, scalable solution to this issue by helping to decrease caretaker workload and providing soft skills training to give them confidence in situations they will have to handle on the job.
Designed for stress-free activity programming, MyndVR’s activity programming calendars provide caregivers and activity directors with a monthly schedule of virtual reality experiences, talking points to help fuel engaging conversations between seniors and caregivers, and a variety of featured content to reflect themes of the month.
MyndVR is designed to be used with the accompaniment of a therapist or caregiver, allowing them to guide the person they’re caring for through different experiences or therapies. What makes this exciting is that activities and therapies become a conversation – a caregiver can ask a senior, “Where would you like to go today?” or, “Would you like to take a trip to the street you grew up on?”
Q: Does insurance cover MyndVR therapies?
A: MyndVR is the first ever company with a VR product that is a supplemental benefit on a Medicare Advantage Plan. In January, we partnered with AgeWell New York to deliver digital therapeutics as part of their ISNP plan. So, as far as I know, this is currently the only partnership of its kind, but it’s a groundbreaking moment for digital therapeutics and VR-based therapies. I expect that many payers will begin to follow AgeWell’s lead, and developers will continue to put out new therapeutic applications.
Q: What are the upfront costs or considerations for using MyndVR?
A: MyndVR works with senior care facilities of all kinds and currently has operations in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK. Typically, pricing depends on the resident capacity of a senior – we recommend one headset for every five seniors in a facility. VR-based therapeutics can be used almost anywhere, in bed, in a chair, or standing. However, it’s important to ensure the surroundings allow for a full range of motion, particularly when physical and occupational therapies occur.
If you’re interested in the MyndVR platform, visit their website.