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How virtual reality can help seniors

Let's check out some highlights from a Techweek event at AARP's The Hatchery.

Fall back... into networking. (Photo by Flickr user Let Ideas Compete, used under a Creative Commons license)

An event held at AARP innovation lab The Hatchery as part of Techweek showcased various companies that use virtual reality to help seniors out in various ways. Many of these startups had goals that corresponded with the pillars of a healthy brain lifestyle, which include discovering or learning new things, connecting with others, moving, eating a healthy diet and relaxing.

Outside of their formal event at The Hatchery, AARP and Booz Allen Hamilton set up a BetaBox that showcased various virtual reality and mixed reality demos for guests to try, while also introducing the pillars of brain health mentioned above.

As participants walked in, there was a demonstration of a use of the Microsoft HoloLens technology which would allow both doctors and patients to be able to see a 3D model of a brain as shown in MRI imaging. In addition to being more visually appealing and realistic than most MRI images, the HoloLens also allowed programmers to color code certain areas of the brain. This technology could be used to show seniors who may struggle to remember complex medical terms what doctors are talking about in more concrete terms.

Also featured in the BetaBox was a virtual reality demonstration that encouraged seniors to exercise by stimulating a canoe ride in a tropical paradise. They were then encouraged to follow a parrot in a canoe by moving handheld sensors. The event’s organizers imagined that this technology could be used to help seniors exercise on their own time, and to relax when they see an idyllic scene around them.

Inside the Hatchery, one of the startups, VRHealth, operated on a similar premise. Founder Eran Orr was onhand with an environment that allowed users to pop balloons with a sword. It relied on handheld sensors to prompt seniors to move. The technology was intended for use by medical experts, and takes analytics and metrics. For now the technology can only be used as part of therapy, but the company plans to launch a home therapy version of its software in 2018, as well as cognitive, psychological and other health-based programs later in the year. Though VRHealth is based in Boston, they plan to expand to D.C. as one of their primary locations.

While the BetaBox demo and VRHealth obviously focus primarily on the “move” pillar of brain health, Boston-based startup Rendever and cofounder Kyle Rand are aiming at to fulfull the “discover” and “connect” pillars of brain health. Their product can show virtual versions of famous landmarks and places, or offer more personalized versions of places like childhood homes and marriage locations. Rendever is intended to be used in groups, to give seniors something to talk about even after the discovery of the virtual experience has ended.


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