The company has partnered with Agewell, a specialty managed care organization serving New York state
There's now over two decades of research that's been done on VR and its effect on various health conditions; that includes behavioral health problems such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. What there hasn't been as much of is research on how this technology can help older people, despite the fact that the country is rapidly aging: by 2060, nearly one in four Americans will be 65 years and older, the number of 85-plus will triple, and the country will add a half million centenarians.
"It's not like in the last 25 years there's been a ton of researchers that have been looking at the older population. That is, quite honestly, a symptom of a much bigger situation in our society, which is overlooking the care of seniors in general," Chris Brickler, founder and CEO of MyndVR, a provider of VR-based, digital therapeutic experiences designed for the aging population, told VatorNews.
This population is at particular risk of anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and even increased risk of death, thanks to isolation, he said, something that was highlighted by the pandemic, but has always been a problem.
"Tens of thousands of Baby Boomers are turning 65 every day in the US alone. That's going to strain family and health care resources. From every aspect of how that older adult is going to be cared for, families and caregivers are entering into a whole new area of care, especially when it relates to dementia and Parkinson's and things along those lines, where we think VR is going to help with that problem," he said.
"Finally, the other big problem statement, if you want to call it a problem, is people are living longer. It's generating significant more needs for occupational therapies and rehabilitation."
The company's mission is to get its product into the hands of as many seniors as it can to help them through their declining years, and now it will able to reach many more thanks to a newly announced partnership with AgeWell New York. That means MyndVR will, for the first time, be covered by insurance, as CareWell members will now have access to its virtual reality therapy sessions.
AgeWell New York is a specialty managed care organization serving Medicare and Medicaid populations in the New York metropolitan area, including the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens Brooklyn, Nassau, Westchester, and Suffolk counties.
"This is the first time VR has been included as a covered supplemental benefit for Medicare Advantage. That is the big headline statement: despite over 1,000 clinical studies that point to the benefits of VR in a range of healthcare outcomes, ranging from depression to dementia to opioid addiction, to all these different things, this is the first time that we've got VR making inroads into Medicare Advantage, which is such an important vehicle for the health of our older adults in this country," Brickler said.
The reason that the company chose to partner with Agewell, in particular, is that "their view on patient-centered care is second to none."
"All of this content that we're building into our library, all the third party content relationships that we do, all tie into specific conditions or indications with the aging. A Medicare Advantage plan, like Agewell, has to have competitive benefits. So, Agewell will be in a more competitive position as it relates to their Medicare Advantage plan than than other Medicare Advantage plans might have," said Brickler.
Founded in 2016, the company offers a subscription bundle that includes immersive glasses from HTC Vive, along with interactive content, such licensed content from producers such as NatGeo, Discovery, and USA Today, as well as MyndVR originals. It also provides a tablet that drives the VR experience, so that in cases where someone that might not be able to control a VR menu system due to cognitive decline, their caregiver can do it for them.
It also provides activity calendars, so the caregiving staff and all these healthcare settings can easily go into the system and figure out what might be a good thing to do that day for those seniors.
For example, using the medium of virtual reality, the company can take an older adult that has dementia out of their four walls of their room and into a 1950s speakeasy jazz club, where they can watch their favorite band or listen to their favorite songs with a band performing tableside, with a whole room of people dressed in 1950s garb.
"We found very quickly that we have the ability with this science to do wonderful things to that aging mind. In this case, adding music, but also adding the experiential element visually to the overall idea and conceptm is really why we founded MyndVR. That's how we got started, as a music therapy application for seniors," Brickler said.
The company mostly sells into senior care settings, such as Continuing Care Retirement Communities, assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory care settings.
"Those folks really need relief and connection with the outside world. So, when we bring MyndVR into a memory care community, for instance, it's wonderful because we're connecting human spirit that wants to connect with nature, with music, with art, with travel, adventure," Brickler explained.
"We lift them out of their four walls of their existence, and we put them into a very happy, calm, safe place that connects them with all these energies on the outside world."
The company currently operates its B2B business in all 50 States, Canada, and Australia; while it does have B2C business, in which it sells refurbished equipment, the company is planning launching the next version of its at home product in the coming quarter, with new immersive glasses that will be made available to the tens of millions of seniors who are living at home and are being cared for at home.
Ultimately, Brickler believes that that virtual reality will become ubiquitous, and will be the standard of care for seniors.
"This has huge impact on the adaptability of VR with these older folks, so that's a big thing. We think that that trend will continue, we think the price will continue to drop on these glasses, we think that they will become ubiquitous, and we believe that every family caring for seniors in five years from now will have a set of these headsets at home for their seniors, and possibly for their own family," he said.
"Once that ubiquitous adoption happens, we will see a completely different landscape as it relates to digital therapeutics because what MyndVR is building is this global network of endpoints where we can deliver these digital therapeutics over the HTC Vive glass technology with the MyndVR global distribution network."
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