Startup MyndVR inks partnership to expand virtual reality solutions for seniors

Virtual reality is most often associated with young gamers, but the technology has been making inroads in healthcare, with some companies eyeing the rapidly growing senior set.

There are companies now using VR to manage chronic and back pain, support surgical training, perform vision testing and provide mental health support.

A recent market research report estimates that between 2021 and 2026, the market for VR in healthcare will grow nearly 35% annually, swelling to more than $40 billion by the end of that time, Fierce Medtech reports. That’s a far cry from the comparatively meager $2.7 billion space VR carved out in medicine in 2020.

MyndVR, a company based in Plano, Texas, is centered on the eldercare market, with a particular focus on providing VR therapy to help with memory and cognitive function, promote more engagement with rehab therapy and improve overall wellness.

The company works with senior living communities, home health care agencies and veteran homes; it also makes its VR technology available to individual adults aging in their own homes. The company is curating a vast library of VR content to create an innovative genre of recreational, prescriptive and on-demand therapies, according to executives.

"We are providing digital health and happiness to this booming audience of older adults using VR," Chris Brickler, CEO and co-founder of MyndVR, told Fierce Healthcare. While VR companies to date have focused on younger audiences, there is an opportunity to leverage the tech to engage a dynamic aging population, he said.

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Brickler has managed large business units at Verizon, British Telecom and Concert and spent a decade with production company Xlantic. In 2016, he connected with a friend, Shawn Wiora, who was then the chief information officer at a company that operates skilled nursing facilities in Texas. They worked together on the idea of using immersive VR to address cognitive issues with older seniors.

"We started about five years ago to reimagine VR away from this youth-based gaming and pop culture phenomenon to practical use cases in healthcare, with a focus on the senior aspect of healthcare," he said.

Through MyndVR's immersive programs, older adults can attend a Broadway show, go skydiving or scuba diving and travel to cities around the world.

MyndVR's catalog is a blend of licensed content and originally produced content, Brickler said. As one example of homemade content, the company developed a travel series based on Route 66 that features iconic stops along the famed highway.

"For an 85-year-old person with mild cognitive impairment who has done the trip, the experience can unlock memories," Brickler said. "The beauty of VR is that it teleports older adults out of their four walls to a different time, place and experience. For someone who hasn't done the trip, they get a chance to have this as a bucket list experience."

The company recently inked a partnership with Select Rehabilitation to expand the company's VR solution to post-acute care. Select is a large provider of contract rehabilitation services, employing 17,000 therapists delivering a range of clinical services at more than 2,400 facilities located in 43 states.

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The team-up will enable MyndVR to expand its technology to hundreds of thousands of seniors across the U.S., according to the companies. Select provides on-site therapy services including physical, occupational and speech language pathology therapy.

VR programs can enhance physical therapy programs by simulating a kitchen or a garage to help seniors with activities of daily living, he said. "You go into a therapy room at a senior living facility, and it will have a room that has weights and an exercise bike and those are all great. But what MyndVR can do is enable a senior to teleport to a garage and work with tools. So that community doesn't have to spend more to build new facilities. We can affordably bring that virtual space and skills challenges into the mix." 

"Virtual reality can make therapy and rehabilitation fun, motivating and engaging," said Kathleen Weissberg, national director of education at Select, in a statement.

In December, MyndVR acquired VR therapy company Immersive Cure to expand its technology solutions for seniors, veterans and hospice care providers. As part of the acquisition, the company also is partnering with New York-based MJHS Health System on a pilot to study how VR can improve the quality of life for hospice patients. 

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MyndVR says it's committed to continued research and development to measure outcomes with the use of VR. The Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University is collaborating with MyndVR to study the impact of VR on older adults.

Massachusetts-based Rendever is another company in the senior-focused space and offers a VR platform that provides cognitive stimulation, socialization and therapy for older adults. The company says it has more than 400 enterprise clients. 

Rendever recently unveiled a VR fitness platform that blends physical and cognitive fitness for seniors while also boosting socialization.

"I think we are entering that next wave of VR," Brickler said. "The regulatory climate is warming up for VR so we’re seeing FDA breakthrough designations and [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] warming up to the idea of affordable therapy through VR."

There also is a growing body of clinical research focused on the use of VR in healthcare that also helps drive the industry, he noted.