It’s safe to say that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted everyone and how we interact with one another for the foreseeable future, but one group of citizens that has been significantly affected are the elderly and immunocompromised residents in assisted living and skilled nursing communities, for whom COVID-19 can be life-threatening. A Cornell-affiliated startup is providing a technology solution to bring individuals living in assisted living communities together with loved ones while remaining safely apart.

Eversound, a provider of wireless listening systems used in assisted living communities to aid hearing and increase social engagement, has shifted its focus to address problems related to COVID-19, such as the loss of family visitations, group activities, exercise classes, and other programming that is imperative to the well-being of residents.

Founder and CEO of Eversound and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alumnus, Jake Reisch ’15, expressed the impact that social distancing has on these communities. “People are much more likely to die if they are socially isolated. It increases the chance of coronary heart disease, dementia, or serious falls. To address the growing issue of social isolation resulting from the pandemic, we shifted our focus to ‘How do we keep people connected to each other at a safe distance?’ and then evolved our product toward ‘How can we facilitate safe family visitations?’.”

Facilitating safe family visitations is one way Eversound is aiding assisted living residents and staff; the startup’s technology provides other benefits as well. Benchmark Senior Living is one of many assisted living companies taking advantage of the benefits Eversound’s wireless listening systems and premium programming provides. At one of Benchmark’s residential communities, Greenwich Farms, in Warwick, Rhode Island, elderly community members have not only had the opportunity to participate in safe family visitations, but they also use Eversound for music therapy, interactions with caretakers, virtual bike riding simulations, and even baby doll therapy, which is used to help patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

“We’ve had a lot of success in our community with baby doll therapy. Incorporating this therapy with the Eversound devices has really worked for some of our residents and helps calm them down and bring them back to where they feel safe and comfortable” explained Ashley Roberts, who is the Mind and Memory Care director at Greenwich Farms. “Obviously, the isolation and social distancing is going to be ten times worse for someone with dementia because they don’t understand why they have to be apart from family. That’s been a big struggle for our residents because sometimes what they really need in that moment is a hug or someone to tell them they are going to be okay.”

This business shift, while clearly beneficial, is not unknown to the Eversound brand. Launched in 2013 through eLab, Cornell’s student startup accelerator, Eversound was initially created in response to the growing “silent disco” market; however, the company determined that its use could address a much more pressing problem: hearing deficiency in environments where hearing aids fall short. In 2019, the startup raised $5 million in Series A funding to expand its impact on this market. This most recent COVID-19 shift is a continuation of the company’s journey. According to Reisch, his time at Cornell taught him to be adaptable and resilient, allowing the company to grow in new directions, while remaining true to their mission of assisting senior citizens.

“Our focus has become ‘How do we keep older adults connected and give them a sense of purpose and create these meaningful moments for them as they age? How do we take someone who has as a growing challenge operating on a day to day basis, whether it be losing vision or hearing or mobility or cognition, and keep their life stimulating and vibrant and uplifting?’ Our mission is still the same, but our priorities have shifted” said Reisch.

Family visitations have been suspended at many assisted living communities across the country since the beginning of the pandemic; however, as states begin to reopen, strategies have been put in place to help connect families with their loved ones. Greenwich Farms at Warwick has been able to conduct family visitations using Eversound’s wireless listening systems, in which family members can easily speak with their loved ones and see them from a safe distance without gaps in conversation. Greenwich Farms and other communities across the country that use this system are already seeing the benefits and improvement in well-being for residents, as well as the joy in their family members faces.