Easing Pain and Creating Smiles with Virtual Reality

How Cleveland’s Immersive Cure combines nostalgia and VR for unique experiences

For seniors, a moment of nostalgia or a visit from an old friend can be the highlight of the day. But what if that trip down memory lane could come with modern virtual reality technology? At Akron startup Immersive Cure, they’re delivering happiness in the form of VR, allowing seniors confined to a care facility to take adventures that range from sightseeing visits to virtual excursions to their favorite locales. And they’re doing it without having to physically move the patients at all.

“At Immersive Cure, we bring amazing experiences to seniors,” said CEO and founder Jessica Benson. “We want to bring a smile to our patients who are in hospice care and often veterans. They sometimes receive traditional therapies to help ease their discomfort, pain, anxiety and stress. But at Immersive Cure, we do that by giving them an interactive, virtual-reality experience that serves as an escape. It’s super easy to use, and the results are fantastic.”

Immersive Cure’s magic doesn’t come from a generic hard drive. The company not only brings the hardware and software to seniors, but they create the visuals themselves. This allows the company to deliver hand-crafted experiences that are tailored to the people they work with. Rather than providing the same small set of VR trips, Immersive Cure can make a patient’s memories or imagination come alive.

“We can create content, and that’s the big thing that sets us apart from everybody else,” said Benson. “At a hospice in Sandusky, we met a woman who wanted to go to Kelleys Island one more time. And so we went and shot the island, with the boat ride over and everything. We turned that around in a week to get it to her so that she could go to Kelleys Island before she passed away. We’re agile enough that we can do that, which is pretty great. And it’s real content; it’s not computer-generated. These are real experiences and people have responded so well to that.”

Virtual reality has been proven to reduce pain through neural pathways. So while seniors are immersed in their VR experience, they’re also escaping the pain and stress that might otherwise be managed by medication, physical therapy or massage. Sometimes, the company’s experiences come with tangible props to make the VR trip even more immersive. Sand and seashells can transport a patient even further into a trip to the beach, while aromatherapy adds the smell of the woods. For most seniors who experience the process, it’s an entirely new sensation and adventure.

“This generation remembers watching Technicolor come to life on television through the Wizard of Oz — Dorothy swirling around in the black and white until she lands, opens her eyes and sees Oz in color,” said Benson. “That’s how we can talk to them about virtual reality: You’re not going to understand it until you’re in it. We can transport you somewhere else. VR takes people to a whole different dimension. It’s really rewarding to help them experience that.”

Benson knows that Immersive Cure is a big idea with massive potential, and she’s been working on a variety of partnerships to help advance the company. She completed a course with the Northeast Ohio Student Venture Fund, is working with the University of Akron’s I-Corps program and has drawn interest from Plug and Play Cleveland, Bounce Innovation Hub and more. Relatively new to the startup scene, Benson said she’s gaining valuable advice and experience through these resources and is grateful to have such a strong support system in Ohio.

“Northeast Ohio is a hotbed for technology, and there’s so much encouragement,” said Benson. “You have so many organizations and mentors who are giving their time, walking us through things. They’re helping us understand the business aspect. As entrepreneurs, we come into this with the passion and emotion and think we have a great idea. So you have to step back and say, ‘OK, is this what a customer actually wants to buy or is this just something that you think is cool?’ There are a lot of people to hold your hand through that process, and it’s leading to more successful entrepreneurs.”

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