For the last two months, Regina Senior Living has been utilizing a different technology to help residents without medication — virtual reality.
In June, Benedictine Health System, the senior care organization to which Regina belongs, began working with the California-based company MyndVR. Along with Regina Senior Living in Hastings, BHS decided to try out MyndVR at Madonna Meadows in Rochester.
MyndVR aims to provide therapy and comfort for the aging population through virtual reality.
The company began testing across five states in 2017 to figure out what content would be beneficial for those on the receiving end. The company launched in 2018 and has grown to 25 states. The virtual reality therapy launched in Hastings and Rochester is the company’s first deployment in Minnesota, according to CEO and co-founder Chris Brickler.
“We think virtual reality has the ability to lift up spirits,” Brickler said. “Travel, arts, music, farmland, swimming with dolphins — the content is limitless.”
The content that MyndVR creates is aimed at an experience that is calming and enjoyable for aging adults.
Currently, at Regina Senior Living, the virtual reality therapy is being utilized by residents suffering from dementia.
Recent studies have shown that virtual reality can help reduce anxiety in those suffering with the disease, Dr. Neal Buddensiek, BHS chief medical officer and Regina Senior Living medical director, said.
“We’re trying to provide new, innovative, simple, practical and sustainable ways to comfort and support the residents we serve,” Buddensiek said.
There are currently four headsets at Regina, made specifically for MyndVR.
The headsets are easy to use, Beddensiek said, adding that all it takes is the headset and a tablet on which a staff member at the facility can run the virtual reality experience that the resident will have.
Because of the variety of content that MyndVR provides, the virtual reality experience a resident has can be based off of their own interests. If they like animals, they could walk through a zoo or play with puppies. Residents can also experience more high-energy content, such as parasailing or running through a tunnel onto a football field with a cheering crowd.
Buddensiek wants it to be clear that virtual reality has more uses than just for video games and entertainment. The aim of using virtual reality therapy is not just to provide comfort to residents, but to also help them foster connections with their families.
For the first virtual reality experience, Buddensiek said, families are asked to come in so that everyone can see how it works together. In one instance, he added, he saw how having family around made a resident less apprehensive about using the headset.
“Our wellness coordinator had a great idea to let the grandchildren use it,” Buddensiek said. “Then through that, they said ‘Grandma, you have to try it.’ and she did. They had a great shared experience together.”
Not only is virtual reality being utilized to help their residents, BHS plans to roll out virtual reality for staff training by the end of this year.
“It will allow us to provide a better, more practical way to train our associates and to be able to embody different people living with different conditions,” Buddensiek said.
The company creating the content is called Embodied Labs. The virtual reality training will be available for staff and caregivers and will give them access to content allowing them to embody what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and more. One experience can even simulate what it is like to be actively dying, Buddensiek said.