Rendever: Using Virtual Reality to Spark Real-Life Connections Among Older Adults

By Mark Ogilbee posted 07-27-2023 08:51 AM


Rendever, an AgeTech Collaborative™ startup participant, is aiming to overcome social isolation through the power of virtual reality (VR). Through shared, guided VR experiences — coupled with an emphasis on post-experience conversation — participants find common ground with their peers and start building new relationships.  

To learn more about the company and how the VR experiences help reduce loneliness, we chatted with Kyle Rand, Rendever’s founder and CEO. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 


What can you tell us about Rendever? 

We’re a company that’s on a mission to overcome social isolation among aging populations through the power of positive shared experiences. We’ve taken a social-mental health model and looked at what we believe is the number-one way to overcome social isolation among older adults: providing opportunities to build new relationships.  

Unfortunately, as you get older, you lose access to things that might spark that connection. We see this a lot within senior living communities, where day-to-day activities such as arts and crafts might not be meaningful enough to kindle a real, authentic connection. 

Positive shared experiences are fundamental to all new relationships, so we’ve built a full-scale virtual reality platform that enables people to put on a headset, then go anywhere and do anything: They can fly in a hot air balloon, stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or even go back to where they grew up. Through each of these experiences, we provide a conversational layer that helps drive discussion and gets people to share stories and other things about themselves. 


That sounds fun!

We’ve also been research-backed from day one. One of the first things we did was a study where we asked ourselves, “Can people really form new connections through VR?” And we found that after just two weeks of daily shared experiences using Rendever, residents in senior living communities had statistically significant decreases in depression scores and increases in multiple measures of social health. Most interestingly, people started to trust each other more, and we know that trust is fundamental to any relationship. 


How does the conversational layer work? 

We see ourselves as an empowerment tool. We focus on equipping caregivers and staff members with the tools they need to guide those conversations. They have access to a tablet that helps them lead the session, where they’re navigating participants through an immersive experience of the highlights of Cleveland, Ohio, for example. Meanwhile, they’re paying attention to the conversations that occur as participants talk about their own experiences with Cleveland, and we equip the caregivers and staff with prompts, conversation starters, trivia and other methods for guiding those discussions. 


What was the inspiration behind founding the company? 

I grew up volunteering in an assisted living community near where I lived. I used to go in and scoop ice cream, and I began to understand the power of simplicity in providing joy to older adults, especially those who are isolated. Later, I went to school for biomedical engineering and neuroscience, and I studied cognitive decline in the aging population as part of my research.  

Unfortunately, my college career was bookended by losing both of my grandmothers, and I saw firsthand just how badly things can go during that care journey. Once you go through something like that, it’s really hard to not want to jump in and make a difference. Luckily, I was able to meet a few folks who had similar experiences, and we got to work building this company. 


What challenges have you faced along the way? 

The biggest consistent challenge is the combination of the societal landscape and the funding landscape, because the AgeTech industry is still so new. We’ve built a really strong business, and we’re profitable. But we couldn’t rely on external funding, because there’s so much that’s still misunderstood about the aging process. That’s why we’re so excited about the AgeTech Collaborative™, because it is bringing a lot of people together to build momentum. But we still have years to go before the AgeTech industry in general is where it should be, because the needs in society are overwhelming. 


What’s up next for Rendever? 

We’re primarily B2B, but a lot of people reach out and ask about using Rendever on a personal basis, often for individuals who are aging in place alone. We believe there’s an opportunity to mix the best of aging in place with the best of senior living, where people can maintain their independence and still get high-quality, community-based programming that can help them build relationships, which is fundamental to your health as an older adult. So we’ve taken the first step in a multistep approach to enable individuals who are aging in place to gain access to the magic of what we do at Rendever. 

Another thing that is coming up is a new pilot we are about to begin, which will allow us to take all the clinical research that we’ve been doing and study how it will actually impact senior living. We’re really excited to kick that off. 


Visit Rendever’s website to learn more.