Senior Housing News
In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with MyndVR CEO and co-founder Chris Brickler to learn how his organization is using virtual reality to mitigate the effects of cognitive conditions and difficult care transitions. He explains how MyndVR is delivering on this mission through strategic partnerships, technological innovation and targeted content development.
As the co-founder of MyndVR, what career experiences do you most draw from in your role today?
Chris Brickler: I’ve been in high tech for 25 years now, and a number of those were spent running my own production studio in Hollywood. Most recently, I worked in the Software-as-a-Subscription (SaaS) field for five years. During that time, I worked on a project with the Oculus folks who are my next-door neighbors in Menlo Park. It gave me the inside scoop on virtual reality and helped me recognize the potential to revolutionize health care and education.
I embarked on a couple of different projects. The first was around music therapy, which is a proven science in senior living, where different melodies and different songs can ignite dormant neuro-aspects of the brain. Music has a way of improving cognition, especially when you can teleport somebody back to a 1950s jazz club for an experience that engages new areas of the brain.
That sent me into a new frontier, culminating in MyndVR a little over four years ago. We are looking at the ways VR can improve the lives of our senior citizens with different types of content and technology. All of my experience came together in an opportunity to give back to the greatest generation.
What market need inspired you and your co-founders to create MyndVR?
Brickler: My co-founder, Shawn Wiora, was operating about 80 skilled nursing facilities in Texas. They had been implementing this iPod-based, music memory program and achieving great results. The program helped with the behavior and mood of people in these facilities, and Shawn’s approach was perfectly aligned with the Oculus project I was working on.
We immediately clicked and said, “This technology probably has the power to lift older folks out of their four walls of existence and help them reconnect with all the wonderful things in life — whether that’s music, art or even nature.” The impetus of the idea was to create a virtual experience that brings the world back to these folks at a time where its joys are far less accessible.
With several VR companies tailored for senior living and for senior health care, how is MyndVR different?
Brickler: I think MyndVR has proven to be a leader, not just in the U.S., but in Canada and Australia as well. We have the largest library of curated content for seniors, carefully selected to fit our model of love, care and compassion. We’re also focused on ease of use and installation, all of which makes it possible for any family or caregiver to bring the world to their seniors. Those are all key differentiators when we talk to customers or when we deploy our service.
We’re also dealing with a major industry issue on the caregiver side. There’s a lot of stress and burnout due to staff shortages across the continuum, and we are making our platform available to caregiver staff so they can find meditative departures from their jobs for even 15 minutes. We’ve seen fantastic results with this so far.
When we spoke two years ago for SHN’s virtual reality report, MyndVR was focused on the experiential benefits VR can offer seniors — such as reminiscence therapy, travel experiences and family bonding. How has the company evolved since then?
Brickler: Virtual reality as a whole has evolved significantly over the last couple of years. Our partners, such as HTC and Pico, have done so much with headset technology alone, and this movement has driven a lot of new requirements. Over the next year, we’re going to see exciting things from these companies that will drive even further evolution.
Additionally, we’ve done so much work on MyndVR original content. A five-year, exclusive license with Littlstar, accompanied by the creation of MyndVR Studios, has drastically accelerated our development. We’re close to building one hundred experiences created specifically for 75- to 105-year-old people. This reimagination of VR has been a big part of our evolution in the last two years.
MyndVR has followed the Stanford Institute study on VR impact in senior communities. What is this study, what does it show and what impact has it had on MyndVR’s approach to this work?
Brickler: One of our strategic advisory board members is Dr. Walter Greenleaf, who has been at Stanford studying VR and the effects of VR on human health care for more than 30 years. He introduced us to a team at Stanford that has launched what will probably be the largest study ever done relative to VR and its impact on aging health.
We’re so excited to work with Stanford. Given our reach of customers and communities, Stanford selected us to participate in a four-to-six-month study that will yield interesting data. We’ve cloudified this whole thing so that once a user goes into the VR experience, the input data from their tablet devices is captured and sent directly to the Stanford research cloud. It’s a very integrated research project, and we expect there will be thousands of participants by the time we’re done.
The Stanford study is anchored by three core tenets. The first tenet is learning how VR affects people’s mood and behavior. We want to know if it brightens their day when those four walls are starting to collapse, and if we can make their day better by giving them access to trips, experiences, museums, live concerts and all of the other MyndVR experiences.
Stanford is also studying how VR improves the relationship between the caregiver and the older adult. Participants are expected to fill out surveys on how their relationships are improving through these unique virtual experiences. Finally, Stanford is examining how VR technology serves as a gateway to other types of senior technology. We are very supportive of Stanford’s exploration of these three tenets, and we are excited to learn what other stories this data will tell.
MyndVR is now teaming up with AT&T and HTC. What is the purpose of these partnerships, and what outcomes do you expect to see?
Brickler: We’ve had a long relationship with HTC as an early investor, and we were also part of the HTC Vive incubator in 2019. We caught a glimpse of the HTC team in Taiwan, China, Seattle and Israel, and developed a wonderful relationship. We kept building our business, with the support of HTC, and they are now very much a strategic part of our company. The technology they are building — both content and headsets — is very much in line with the future of health care and education.
We’ve also done a lot of work with AT&T. In fact, we put together a multi-year distribution deal with AT&T and are now working through their health care and consumer channels. MyndVR makes a product that’s well-suited for clinics and senior living facilities, but it is also well-suited for home use.
Our partnership with AT&T works well when you think about the audience that we’re serving. I would point you to one article that just came out last week just for reference. When we teamed up with them and they started providing our MyndVR content through their channels, the connection between the person transitioning and their family members who could enjoy a virtual experience together has been extremely powerful.
That is a published deal, and it’s a proud moment for MyndVR to be able to use our technology to help people and families dealing with these difficult situations.
We’re excited about our partnership with AT&T. We feel the brands make a lot of sense together in terms of serving older adults. The 5G evolution is so important as we look at the intersection with virtual reality and travel down this path together. One of the clear, early opportunities that reinforced our partnership was a customer called VITAS. They are the largest hospice company in the country, and they just announced plans to deploy a MyndVR solution in Orlando. The results have been phenomenal.
This is near and dear to our heart, and it resonates with our strategy about love, care and compassion. When we can allow people transitioning to end-of-life to explore the world with their families in VR, it’s very powerful. We couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of that.
Since the start of the pandemic, behavioral and mental health have been at the forefront of health care, especially for seniors. What impact does MyndVR have on brain health, Parkinson’s and other dementias?
Brickler: When we serve virtual reality services to older adults, we often run into older adults diagnosed with certain types of dementia, Parkinson’s or other age-related conditions. That’s why we curate our content so carefully.
Silverado, a California-based operator, did a very thorough study in three different cities across the country using MyndVR. They found that over 80% of people diagnosed with dementia or a cognitive issue in their memory care centers were positive or neutral to using MyndVR as a therapy. We thought that was very important. The second major discovery was that over 30% of participants showed a positive improvement in behavior. If you’re an operator in senior living or memory care, that is an important finding.
We think we’re on the frontier of using virtual reality to help mitigate side effects of dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. We never claim to be a cure for any of this, but we do look at side effects and develop content to help with those. When I look at virtual reality and aging health, I think we’re at an embryonic stage. The future couldn’t be more bright for VR as a medicinal or as a therapeutic response to age-related conditions, and that’s why we’re building a great company at MyndVR.
Coming into this year, no one knew fully what to expect in the senior living industry. What was the biggest surprise to you, in the first half of the year and what impact do you think that surprise will have going forward?
Brickler: I think one of the greatest surprises of 2021 has been the amount of time and resources needed to get the virus under control for the vulnerable population. We seem to be more in control in 2021, and it has allowed us to start engaging residents face-to-face again. It’s also allowed family members to visit their elders and bring the MyndVR kit to their homes, and socialize in a way that we hadn’t seen in 2020.
I think that getting the virus under control is a huge step in the right direction for our business, but I also think that there’s a lot of isolation that still exists, and will exist for a long time. Our platform is designed to help reduce those feelings of isolation, because once those feelings start happening, depression and anxiety follow. We want our platform to enable family members to communicate remotely and share otherworldly experiences remotely. That is a big part of our direction.
We really are firmly committed to interactivity. Our medium allows people to do therapeutic, upper body exercises, and connect with their family members, whether they’re 500 miles away or 5,000 miles away. We are using this technology to bring together these families for shared, extraordinary experiences in virtual reality. That’s what MyndVR is all about.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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