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227: Chris Brickler

Therapy and Technology. Chris Brickler, CEO of MyndVR, discusses the power of using VR and technology to combat social isolation plus seeing the benefit of sensory stimulation and cognitive therapy.

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Lucas

Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast. The senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are in Dallas, Texas today in our studio here. And we got a great guest on. We want to welcome Chris Brickler, he’s the CEO of MyndVR.. Welcome to the show. 

Chris Brinkler

Thank you, Lucas. Appreciate it.

Lucas 1:01

It’s so good to see you again. We’ve had a number of great conversations about your background and especially the technology that you’re involved with right now. You guys are fast-moving. There’s a lot going on right now. In this space, I would love for you to tell our audience, let’s bridge the gap between your tech background and why you have found yourself in the senior housing and senior care marketplace.

Chris Brickler 1:31

Oh, sure. Yeah, I’ve had kind of a wide background ranging from telecom. I got involved in helping to build some of the backbone of the internet in Europe and Asia and the US. I went on to run a studio in Hollywood, which was completely different than that career path. 

Lucas

Very different.

Chris Brickler  01:46

For about 10 years, but learned how to produce content that was really engaging and meaningful content was what we specialized in. And then I was working in Silicon Valley in a subscription sort of based business that was you know, it was a fun, fast-moving business, but I, I wouldn’t say that it was as meaningful as the idea of mine VR. And then when I connected with an old partner of mine here in Dallas, he was managing about a hundred sniffs across Texas. And he was telling me about this music and memory program that was he was rolling out, six years ago or so. And the stories that were impacting his job and his career, he was so excited about that. I could feel that. And I was working on a project in virtual reality trying to bring music into the 360 space with Oculus in San Francisco.

Chris Brickler:

So we just got together one night and said, “well, why wouldn’t we create an interesting way to bring music therapy in VR to this massive growing population of seniors that really need care.” And I’ve been involved in some cognitive and psychological projects before in the past, so I’ve got really kind of a deep interest in how our brain functions. And then when we kind of started diving into the health aspects and the real potential of where VR could go from a brain health point of view, and then helping this great generation of older people, it was just a, it was a great match and fit for me to bring 30 years of experience. And now being in the senior living for the last five years, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the technology and how it’s impacting people’s lives.

Josh 03:25

Well, Chris, it sounds like meaningful content, creating meaningful content has been kind of a theme that’s been guiding your pathway. I think most of our listeners, those that might be watching on V YouTube understand a little bit about VR. I mean, it’s becoming very popular from even young children to you’re seeing older adults use it for a variety of different reasons, even entertainment. But explain for our audience, the approach you guys have with being able to use this tech to deliver meaningful content. What is that going to look like for the end-user?

Chris Brickler 03:59

Sure. Yeah. So we’ve totally reimagined virtual reality away from this youth based gaming culture. So you won’t find zombies shooting zombies in our experiences. 

Lucas

Why not? No, just kidding. 

Chris Brickler 04:16

So there’s a lot of youth-based stuff. We won’t put people on roller coasters and try to test how sick they can get, but from a motion point of view, right? That’s not what we do. We provide and curate a really large library of content that we’ve tested over the years that works really well with this population. And so everything’s very safe. It’s in a very secure environment. It’s curated, like I said, with love, care and compassion, and we just do everything we can to make these experiences kind of tie to different age-related conditions. So when we think about older folks and some of the social isolation issues that obviously are facing the aging population, we think about how VR can connect them with how the experiences in VR can connect them with previous experiences. So they might lose connection with animals. They might lose with pets, with nature, with music, live music concerts, with museum tours. Well, we can bring all that, that world of content back to these folks in VR. It really is not just like watching it on a TV either because the immersive nature of the medium is what’s so exciting and what’s so therapeutic.

Josh 05:21

Well, that’s really cool. So talk to us about for the senior living developer, owner-operator. That’s probably the majority of our audience that their ears are perk up and they’re thinking, how would this flesh itself out in my community is, are, what are the requirements? Is this something that your average community is going to need a special room for this that’s designated with certain kind of equipment and technology, or is this something that can be done by the individual, the resident in their own comfort of their own room, kind of help us understand the technology. 

Chris Brickler 05:56

Yeah, so we provide basically a subscription to the virtual reality content that we curate and produce ourselves that also includes the headsets that are needed to watch this content. And it also includes all the service and support and training and onboarding. It’s very simple. We’ve made it very easy for the operators and administrators of senior care to adopt our technology. Something that we take a lot of a lot of pride in our customer excellence and service excellence on the back end as well, because we want our champions at our communities to be very engaged. So they get monthly newsletters that show exactly what content’s coming down the pipe this month, which is exciting and we tie that to different seasonal activities. So to answer your question, yes, the headsets can be taken into an individual for a one-on-one room session that works really well in memory care we’ve seen. 

Chris Brickler 06:45

As it relates to assisted living and independent living sometimes will have group settings to where five people will come down and do it at one time. And the activities director will lead them through these exciting experiences. And then as it relates to skilled nursing a lot of times the operator might have a room that’s dedicated for therapy. What we are doing is putting a headset or a couple of headsets in that room, and then allowing for sort of experiences with that help with ADL retraining and things along those lines. Well, those operators probably don’t have the resources to build a full kitchen or to build a garage or build all these environments that we can build in virtual reality that can then get people into using real life experiences and activities and inner activities that go with with the experiences.

Lucas 07:36

And that right there is kind of a paradigm shift, right? Senior housing these buildings been around for decades and decades and with the constraints in the marketplace and developers and building and cost. Now you start to think about implementing technology like VR, and now your world is limitless all of a sudden. So if you you’re talking about ADLs, like, what is that going to be today? What space do we need to go into virtually to equip and do this? I mean, you’re obviously the gym and the rehab gym is important, but for all intents and purposes that could be gone or repurposed into something else, depending on people’s level of acuity. So let’s chase that rabbit to use a Josh phrase, into this world of virtual reality. I mean, this is something, it’s obviously it’s been talked about. I think for most people, they haven’t really understood it. I remember many Christmases ago people wanted to buy the Oculus, that was like the big thing that people bought. It seemed to kind of wax and wane a little bit, and I’m not sure if it was just the end user at the time, the technology just wasn’t enough for people to bite off on, but it’s had to accelerate to a point now to where these limitless options are really taking place. And so expand on that some.

Chris Brickler 09:03

Yeah, so, I mean, we offer a wide range of experiences that provide connectivity to nature. We’ll take seniors to the international space stations so they can look back at mother earth in a way that they have never seen it, possibly will do all kinds of live music concerts. So we’ll have a classical pianist that’s playing or jazz musician playing some old hits or rag time. It’s really interesting to bring music into this environment because it really ignites different neuro pathways that we don’t see ignited all the time in senior care. So, but then as we do get into the more therapeutic aspect of VR, which is really the exciting frontier of, of where we’re heading with this is to help folks that are in short term or long term rehabilitation sort of modes in their lives and giving caregivers and caretakers and skilled nurses and everyone in the staff, a new tool, a really exciting tool that makes therapy fun again.

Chris Brickler 10:01

Right. One of the biggest things we hear with our operator partners and skilled nurses and heads of clinician services and things like that is that therapy is very fun. And now that we can provide fun environments that can allow you to go fishing catch the fish that you wanted to catch, and you grab it off the line and you put it into the bucket, that’s a blue fish, you want to put it into the bucket, that’s blue, so you can tie some cognitive aspects and, and make them fun. And these experiences along with physical aspects. So in some of these games, you can find yourself reeling in, and you can get some really nice upper body movement as well. And you don’t even realize that you’re having that movement. And you’re actually doing some fun things. We have a really fun butterfly game that we tie into specific movements. So with the flight path of the butterfly will tie into a specific shoulder recovery motion. Interesting. Yeah. So, and then we see people over time, get stronger at that exercise. And it’s really a cool thing.

Josh

Do you see the potential that even from a social interaction, that there could be interactions with other people, friends, or family through this platform?

Chris Brickler 11:38

Yeah, we actually just announced a major initiative at MyndVR last week at south by South by Southwest here in Austin. And that is called MyndConnect. And the idea of that is to really bring an intergenerational communication platform that they, that the operators can use this service while they’re a subscriber of MyndVR. And now we’re essentially allowing a next generation of visitation to happen with remote family members, so they can dial into grandpa’s metaverse and direct that metaverse, or just go along with what grandpa wants to do in the metaverse. But it’s all a very safe, secure content provided by Mynd that links that outside world to grandpa. And what’s great about that is it not only provides reminiscences, maybe they go on a Grand Canyon trip together, but the younger family members’ voice we know from some science has a real impact on memory unlocking memories as well, or at least activating the brain in the hippocampus side of this brain, where we are sort of the epicenter of where memories cross and path, but that is a real benefit.

Chris Brickler 12:47

And then when we start talking about some of the latest advancements in aroma therapy blended with virtual reality, then we start hit on quite a number of sensories, visual, hearing and smell. And that is kind of a new, fun, exciting frontier for VR therapy.

Josh 13:05

Wow. So if I’m understanding correctly to use a, a personal example, my kids, I have three young kids at home. They actually love the VR sets that are out there for retail use. Yeah. And are…actually, it’s amazing how quickly they pick up on that kind of technology without dad slowing them down. They usually show me how to use it.  But grandparents that live a few hours away, that they can’t easily I guess, visit if I’m understanding you correctly, they could engage together in this kind of technology and have some interactions in that way? 

Chris Brickler 13:41

Yeah. I mean, the first phase of, of connecting the generations together is remote family member has a tablet or a smartphone, so it may make it more accessible. They don’t have to have in Oculus headset, in other words, to go into the metaverse. [Gotcha.] We stream the experience real time that grandpa’s happening in the metaverse straight to the iPhone or the Android phone or tablet. But for sure, in the future we’re doing a lot of testing with us around avatars and how do you get real high quality avatars of that remote family member into the metaverse and  allow them to interact in that way? So we think there will be some interesting developments for sure, in the next year or two on that front. 

Josh

 Wow. You guys are on the cutting edge of this Lucas. I’m just my, my mind going crazy here. I think you need an avatar.

Lucas 14:30

We do. We need a Bridge the Gap avatar that’s for sure. Well, so this, the next thing that I wanted to talk about before we close out is the, I guess, the opportunity to to create further engagement. Like, so there’s one sense of this, that, yes there’s a scene where the seniors are in their room enjoying their virtual reality by themselves, but that’s not necessarily the main theme of this, right? This is something that the seniors and congregate living can share as an activity together to say, “hey, at one o’clock today after lunch, let’s all go to the activity room and let’s tour the cistine chapel. Or let’s go to the Grand Canyon and let’s enjoy this together as a group. I can imagine. And maybe you could you know, fill us in on this once they take that trip and take those off, there has to be engagement in conversation that takes place.

Chris Brickler 15:30

Yeah. We’ve seen the virtual reality experiences really stimulate socialization. Which means that we’ll use the technology with folks that might be in a latter stage of dementia of some sort. And we’ve seen it, it’s just over and over and over, where they might go to the, let’s say the Eiffel tower. And that might be a special trip that they had gone to several times in their life with their family. And they have no recollection of really going there. But when they come into MyndVR and then are able to be teleported to that environment and are immersed in it.  Not watching it on a television screen, but immersed in it. It becomes a really powerful way to unlock memories. And I’ve seen it countless times with folks that have just kind of stepped out of that kind of fog that they might be in, unfortunately and brought them to a place of socialization where they might be more social now with their caregivers, which is a big area that we think VR is gonna impact quite a bit.

Chris Brickler 16:30

Josh 17:27 

Well Chris, you mentioned happy team members with the kind of deployment for, for lack of a better term because of the success that they’re seeing through the years of operating communities. I know a lot of obstacles that operators have to overcome with any technology, no matter what it is, is the implementation process could talk to our operators a little bit that might be listening that are thinking, “man, I’ve got to do this, but what does that look like for my team?” What does your kind of implementation process look like for a community?

Chris Brickler 17:58

Yeah, no, it’s very easy actually. We’ve made it the easy buttons sort of approach. If anyone’s ever used sort of a jitterbug type of technology, making cell phones easy, that’s what we’ve done in VR. So we make it very easy for the staff to get trained, uploaded. We’ve got a number of training videos that show shortly how to do different functions, how to control the content. For instance, we have a care tablet that works with the headset and that’s really good in a lot of different sort of memory care type situations and assisted living in some cases. And that tablet can control up to five headsets at one time. It’s very easy to control that. It can also just do one-on-one sessions. So in terms of rollout, we’re now starting to see a lot more organizations of larger scale wanting to implement this across 30, 40, 50 communities.

Chris Brickler 18:47

And that’s what we’re doing right now. So we think 2022 will be a very big year for scale. Whereas the last four or five years we’ve really worked out a lot of the bugs and the research, and development around how is this going to help with certain age related conditions, which is really where we’re, we’re heading as an industry is the therapeutic aspect. Yeah, so it’s, it’s very easy and, and it’s very scalable and we’re very happy to be here in Dallas, at NIC this year as a preferred partner of Omega Healthcare. So we’re going to be in the show showing a lot of different operators, how this is easy to deploy and what is involved with that. But we’re trying to make this a time not a time suck by any stretch, but a but a time savings and a very efficient way of making the residents more engaged and happy.

Josh 19:31

Wow. So Lucas, curious, do you see potentially each of us having an avatar and being able to do this with an Oculus set on, can we do that? 

Lucas 19:41

Yeah. we can go and visit and do a virtual podcast in these communities. Yeah. I really, I love that. And I mean, it really makes me think, my follow up question. Our last question there is like Chris, I mean, this technology is growing leaps and bounds. One thing over the last two years has taught us is that technology has not just blossomed, it’s just exploded specifically in senior care and senior housing And a lot of that has come in and helped a lot of these friction points and a lot of these pain points and problems. Where do you think VR three, five years from now, maybe not necessarily MyndVR, but just VR in general in because as it changes the consumer marketplace, it will obviously also change the healthcare space. What is on the horizon that with this technology?

Chris Brickler 20:37

Yeah. Well, there’s a few things that are happening. Number one, the general culture is really becoming more aware of virtual reality through this Metaverse. Now that’s largely targeted to a youth culture, but in addition to that wave that we’re riding right now with VR coming back into the mainstream, we’re also coupling that with the headway we’re making in the regulatory climate, for instance. So FDA, a fast tracking VR as a sign of what they’re doing right now is wonderful. Also in a Congress, just in the last two weeks there’s been a major development that’s been announced. And it’s great because it’s called the Access to Prescription Digital Therapies Act of 2022. And what this essentially does is group things like virtual reality as a digital therapy, fast track that through the system to where we can now get Medicare, Medicaid sort of reimbursement for these type of new digital therapies.

Chris Brickler 21:31

And this is really important from a care point of view, because we all know that there’s some pharma pharmacology that’s out there that might not be the best to do in our memory care environments. And certainly with disease states that we face. So the alternative of having non-invasive brain engaging technology that can be considered therapeutic is a real big frontier for where we’re, where we’re heading with that front. And then just the research that’s going across all areas of healthcare right now is just phenomenal. It’s advancing very fast and there’s the efficacy behind VR improving socialization for instance, which is a big thing. When you think about dementia and what leads up to that, well there’s a some research that’s really interesting around the tie of loneliness, which is sometimes considered the new heart disease tying that with a link directly to getting dementia, right? And so if we can help that socialization earlier in the process, we’re never saying we’re a cure for any type of disease state with virtual reality, but if there’s ways it can help with the side effects and really get tactical and intentional about that, that’s a very exciting frontier.

Josh

Wow. Well, I know our audience is going to want to dig in and learn more if they’re not already following you, they’re gonna want to definitely look our show notes, Lucas, to make sure they’re catching up with you guys. You’re on the forefront of technology, providing meaningful content to these senior living communities. It’s exciting.

Lucas 23:04

Yes. Very, very exciting. Our listeners. They can go to BTGvoice.com. You can download this episode, read the transcript and also connect with us on social. We’ll make sure that we put Chris and mind VR’ S information in the show notes. You can con connect with them and all the new updates that they have. Chris, thank you for your time today.

Chris Brickler

Thank you, Lucas. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks Josh.

Lucas 23:25

Appreciate it. And thanks to everyone for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

 

227: Chris Brickler