Before the COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted the medical issues with loneliness and depression, senior and retirement communities were fighting these issues.
But now seniors can harness virtual reality (VR) technology to explore new environments at home while avoiding physical stress and strain.
Viva Vita is headquartered in Brickyard Cowork in Woodbridge and is led by Founder and CEO Carleigh Berryman. The company is focused on giving all their customers healthier and happier lives through better mental wellness and quality VR experiences.
“With our all-in-one VR solutions, senior living communities of all shapes and sizes can easily leverage the power of VR for their residents, empowering them to live life to the fullest each and every day,” said Berryman.
Named as one of DC’s Inno 25 under 25 in 2020, Berryman founded Viva Vita while she was a student at George Washington University. Her psychology classes involved studying geriatrics as well. After watching her grandmother struggle with depression and losing interest in daily activities, Berryman wanted to create something that would help and realized VR technology had that potential.
"In talking with other students, we realized that late-life depression and anxiety was something that we didn’t see others focusing on," said Berryman. "It seemed to me that we don’t pay enough attention and respect to our seniors. Our seniors should be enjoying this stage of their lives, and we want to help them do that. Cognitive stimulation is crucial to keeping the mind, body and spirit healthy."
Viva Vita started off licensing content for their senior VR experiences, but now they have a robust library of content of their own, and customers can subscribe to get new content as it becomes available.
Viva Vita was one of the first winners in the IGNITE program, a non-dilutive grant program offered by Prince William County Department of Economic Development with a $25K cash grant for early-stage companies and $50K for companies with funding.
Berryman’s team started by visiting their customers in person to set them up with the VR equipment, but COVID-19 required them to configure things differently. It accelerated their timeline for transitioning from a service to a product-based business.
“Receiving the IGNITE grant allowed us to focus on our growth goals, which include reaching out to anyone who feels trapped where they are,” said Berryman. “COVID-19 has certainly created that experience for many people, not just seniors. We are also thinking about places like dialysis centers and cancer clinics, not just retirement communities.”
Viva Vita’s customers receive their kit in the mail, and they can start using it the day it arrives. Berryman and her team carefully consider their choices of everything from the headsets to the software. They use Pico headsets now because they are the lightest weight they could find, so the headsets don’t rest too heavily on the user’s face. In addition, they use software that requires only a single remote.
“We offer a one-hour training to use our Viva Vita product, but so far, hardly anyone has used it because it’s so user friendly and intuitive to figure out right out of the box,” said Berryman.
The software that drives the experience has been developed by the company, and as the technology becomes more and more sophisticated, Viva Vita is looking forward to expanding what they can offer. Currently, the Viva Vita product is not available for individuals to purchase or subscribe. Their customers are primarily retirement communities, but they are looking to broaden who they can reach.