Research Archives – Varsity Branding

Category: Research

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Those are the words of John Wanamaker (1838–1922), a very successful United States merchant, religious leader and political figure, considered by some to be a pioneer in marketing.

Anyone who is a marketer for senior living communities can relate to that statement. But there is a way to know where your marketing dollars are really going, and it’s by harnessing your data using predictive analytics.

That concept was the focus of a 2021 LeadingAge Conference session, “Predictive Analytics: Connecting Past Performance to Future Success,” a joint presentation by Varsity, its sister agency WildFig Data and Ingleside Senior Living.

“Retirement communities in general are data rich and insight poor,” says John Bassounas, Partner at Varsity. “Sometimes when it comes to analytics and data, people get overwhelmed. Really, at the end of the day our job is to simplify that process and deliver insights that can help communities make better decisions.”

During these challenging times, harnessing your data is especially important. “As an outgrowth of COVID-19,” John says, “everyone is trying to figure out the role of digital — how organizations can establish a competitive advantage. Data is the way to do that.”

A Progressive Partner

Varsity and WildFig have been fortunate to partner with Ingleside, a forward-thinking, multi-site, nonprofit senior living organization located in the Washington, D.C., area. “Data analysis was a leadership initiative at Ingleside,” says John. “It started at the top, and leadership identified data analytics as a key priority for their organization. In doing so, they partnered with us, and we became an extension of their team.”

“This is a visionary client,” agrees Derek Dunham, Vice President Client Services at Varsity. “They have established team members focused on the digital experience in analytics — they see the value in it. They have been an early adopter of data mining and analytics.”

Here are some key takeaways from the LeadingAge presentation based on our work with Ingleside:

1.  Consider all of the digital elements as an ecosystem, not siloed tactics.

“One of the goals here is to make sure that we’re not just looking at isolated tactics. We need to assess the impact of the entire digital ecosystem of paid, owned and earned media,” says Derek.

“From a marketing perspective, understanding the relationship between the various tactics and strategies to the overall program is incredibly valuable, because we want to optimize the plan for the best results.”

“For Ingleside, an important part of the ecosystem is a fresh website that is newly programmed using all the modern tools. Technology is always changing. With a new website, we don’t have to dumb down any of the analytics because the site can plug into analytics and pull data easily.

2. Embrace the process — Each organization is at a different stage with their analytics and modernization journey.

“It’s important for any organization to have the mindset that this is a process,” says Derek. “It’s not going to be a one-off project; it’s a culture. It’s an ongoing initiative that needs to be fed over time. I would say, assess what you have and get going. Taking the first step is important as this process is never ‘done’ — there are always opportunities to refine, test and learn.”

“Some organizations might think, ‘We don’t have all the data we need.’ Others may think, ‘We have too much data.’ Don’t let a lack of data stand in the way of proceeding with initiatives,” John says. “The first thing you need to ask is, ‘What is the question that you want to answer, and how can data make that happen?’”

3. Start with the big questions — Others will emerge.

“Starting with the big questions means, don’t get mired down in the details,” Derek says. “First think about what are the big questions you want to have answered. A question might seem too big initially, but you’ll be able to break it down into smaller questions and put together a manageable process.”

As an example, here are some of the questions that Ingleside wanted to answer:

  • How do we reach and maintain 95% occupancy?
  • How can we use data to make informed decisions?
  • How can we predict future outcomes?
  • Should the website be redesigned and merged under one URL?

4. Think not just about outcomes, but about implementation, and how to create a dynamic feedback loop.

“It’s an iterative process, and you’re constantly going to be refining it,” says Derek. “You want to look at the outcomes at a point in time. With this process, you are able to have confidence that you can pull your data at any point in time and get answers.”

Once the loop is established, John says, “We can either look backward at what has happened, or we can look forward to help inform what we’d like to have happen or predict outcomes.”

5. Customize the sales experience through predictive modeling.

“The overall goal of data analytics is to be able to understand the data to provide prospects with a customized experience — making the entire process from a marketing and sales perspective more efficient,” Derek says.

“For organizations like Ingleside, we’re doing that through a predictive modeling tool that does two things — predicts what lead volume will be, and assigns a lead score to every prospect in their database. We’ll be able to map each prospect’s customer journey and know the likelihood of their becoming a depositor at each interaction with the salesperson,” says John. “This map can be generated for every prospect, providing an easily digestible way to monitor the sales process.”

Why is that so important? “We all know that it takes anywhere from 20 to 30 touches for somebody to move in,” says Derek. “The more we can make those touches relevant and purposeful and efficient, the better. Through that process, we also make the salesperson’s time efficient, because they’re dealing with the people who are most predisposed to buying. We’re offering the salesperson better information so they are better able to connect with the right prospects.”

If you’d like the Varsity team to take you through the presentation in more detail, please contact John Bassounas at or Derek Dunham at .

 

At our first sales & marketing roundtable of the new year, communities discussed the exciting news of the COVID-19 vaccine and shared tips for virtual events and video floor plans.

 

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 14, 2021, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact .

At our 33rd weekly sales & marketing roundtable, we shared how we’re feeling this week. We also discussed a plastic wall that was set up by one community to allow residents and family to hug, shown below.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 12, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact .

 

At our weekly sales & marketing roundtable, we all shared creative tactics we’re using to attract prospects as COVID-19 rates spike in some areas. We’d especially like to thank Lana Peck, senior principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) for sharing the latest insights from executive surveys completed since the pandemic hit.

Check out the insights and survey results below. We also invite you to our next roundtable this week.

NIC Executive Survey Insights with Lana Peck

The full report is on the NIC website. Wave 14 findings can be found here.

We had 70 organizations respond to wave 14:

  • Not the same 70 for every wave, but 60–70% are repeat takers, so there is some continuity.
  • Geographical dispersion of respondents:
    • There’s a slight underrepresentation in the Northeast compared to national coverage of the NIC map.
    • For the most part, participants are coming from all over the country.
  • We’re promoting this more strongly with operators, as we’re getting some national media exposure.
    • It is important for operators to know that, by participating in the survey, they have the opportunity to ensure that the narrative is accurate.

  • We went from ⅓ in wave 10 (early August) to just under ⅔ in the most recent wave — a lot more organizations are offering rent concessions.
  • 90% of organizations are paying overtime to mitigate staffing issues.
  • Staffing/temp agency usage has grown throughout the pandemic.
  • About ⅔ of organizations that have IL in portfolio are offering rent concessions.
  • Organizations with nursing care are less likely to offer rent concessions.
  • Discussion from the group:
    • We are giving concessions on entrance fees and support on moving services.
    • We are offering $3,000 toward moving expenses and incentives to get people to move more quickly.

  • Organizations reporting no change in pace have been growing. It’s the highest it’s been in wave 14.
  • Deceleration of move-ins is lower in IL, AL and MC in wave 14.
  • Most respondents are citing increased resident demand (increase in move-ins).
  • Fewer organizations with nursing care beds in wave 14 reported acceleration in the pace of move-ins, with the fewest respondents citing hospital placement since wave 7 surveyed mid-May — presumably due to anecdotal reports of hospitals sending patients straight home to recuperate from surgeries or illnesses with in-home health care.
  • A quarter of organizations have a backlog of residents waiting to move in.

  • Organizations may be providing incentives. The month-over-month change in occupancy has been starting to rise.
  • About ¼ of the organizations that have IL in their portfolio; ⅓ of those with AL; ½ of those with MC; and about ½ with nursing care are seeing an upward change in occupancy rates in the past 30 days.
  • Fewer folks that have IL are seeing a decrease in occupancy.
  • 48% in nursing care are seeing increases, and 37% are seeing decreases.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 5, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact .

At our weekly sales and marketing roundtable, we all shared creative tactics we’re using to attract prospects as communities gradually open back up.

We’d especially like to thank Lana Peck, Senior Principal at the National Investment Center for  Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) for sharing insights gleaned from 11 waves of executive surveys, all completed since the pandemic hit.

You’ll find discussion highlights and survey results below. We also invite you to join us for our next roundtable, coming this week.

 

NIC Executive Survey Insights

We were joined by Lana Peck, Senior Principal at NIC.

Lana:

NIC is a nonprofit organization with a mission to enable access and choice for America’s seniors through data, transparency and making connections.

We’ve been doing our executive survey, since 3/24/20, with 11 waves of data so far. Our audience is C-suite executives and owners/operators of senior housing properties across the country.

We would encourage each of your executives to email to take the executive survey.

Some highlights from the results so far:

  • Wave 10 = 53% (mid- to late July)
    • About half of organizations with more than one property are easing restrictions
  • Wave 11 = 63% (late August)
    • Even more are easing move-in restrictions

Note: blue = good; orange = bad

  • Wave 8 (around Memorial Day)—we start to see an improvement and a downward trend in decreasing occupancy (directional changes in occupancy by care segment across the respondent’s portfolio of properties—single-property operators included)
  • Mid- to late August sees pullback in move-ins for AL

• Note: blue = good; orange = bad
• Across the board, the pace of move-outs hasn’t changed tremendously (gray bars)
• Around Memorial Day, we see some improvement, with fewer organizations reporting acceleration in move-outs
• In mid- to late August, we see a pullback in acceleration again

  • The recent decline in a slowdown in leads/conversions is due to easing moratoriums and pent-up demand (especially in IL) when doors opened, and people waiting in the wings could actually move in
  • When the blue line goes down, that’s a good thing—it’s a reverse in the slowdown of leads and conversions
  • The orange line has been trending lower—about half of organizations eased move-in restrictions
  • Yellow line—only about half of organizations initially felt that resident or family member concerns contributed to deceleration of move-ins, but this has increased quite a bit, possibly due to a resurgence of COVID-19 or issues of residents not being able to see family members. This is a significant factor in more recent waves of the study.
  • This slide is aggregate and shows all care segments
  • Leads, conversions and sales are happening more frequently as of more recently. Before, there was an inability to have people on campus to make sales.

  • This shows the toll of the pandemic on organizations—how many are feeling the need to provide incentives to bring residents in. For the most part, most are not reducing rents or fees at this time.
  • The majority of respondents don’t have a backlog of residents waiting to move in.

Valuable Resources NIC Offers:

  • NIC’s Fall Virtual Conference. The conference will start on October 3. Week 1 will focus on education. Week 2 will be about making connections and business contacts in peer-to-peer discussions. Anyone who signs up for the conference will be able to participate in Community Connector—essentially a LinkedIn for senior housing.
  • COVID-19 Resource Center.  Data, analytics and connections to help provide transparency to the sector and keep  communities informed.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 1, at noon ET.

 For log-in information, please contact .

 

 

At our virtual sales and marketing roundtable, we brainstormed tactics to help prospects overcome their reluctance to move during a pandemic.

Check out the takeaways below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming up this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 24, at noon ET.

We’ll be joined by Lana Peck, Senior Principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). She’ll be discussing insights from NIC’s ongoing executive survey. NIC has conducted 12 waves of surveys with C-suite execs, across senior living, with near real-time data on the pulse of the market and the fundamentals of senior housing. The study includes topics like changes in occupancy, how communities are supporting staff and reasons for acceleration and deceleration of move-ins (among other topics).

For log-in information, please contact .

 

At our weekly sales and marketing roundtable, aging services expert Scott Townsley, principal of Trilogy Consulting, LLC, joined us to discuss consumer research and other insights related to the pandemic.

Check out the takeaways below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming this week.

Highlights from presentation on consumer research by Scott Townsley, Principal, Trilogy Consulting, LLC:

Opportunities are already emerging amid COVID-19—this will change who we are as a field and will change the product. Here are some resources that can be helpful as you deal with this situation.

The End of Competitive Advantage and Seeing Around Corners, two excellent books by Rita Gunther McGrath

  • “Inflection point” is a key concept she discusses, which she describes as jerking the steering wheel while driving
  • Unfortunately, by the time you recognize an inflection point, it can be too late; for example, discovering that occupancy has dropped from 96% to 80%, and it’s not going back up
  • My observation is that skilled nursing is at an inflection point—it was already changing, but the coronavirus has pushed it to this point—and that a portion of it will be forever changed
  • Life Plan Communities aren’t at an inflection point yet, but we need to have our eyes wide open

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, by Jamie Holmes

  • “While uncertainties can be painful, they are also, by definition, eras of change. They’re destabilizing because they’re a threat to the status quo, which is also precisely why they represent an opportunity for innovative and cultural rebirth.”
  • The risk is that we seek information or anecdotes that hint we’re returning to the “way things were” sooner rather than later—rather than seeking actual data
  • We can’t look to the past (even January 2020) for clues about the future, because we’re probably going to be wrong; I refer to it as the “perilous backslide to the status quo,” in which we will innately make decisions thinking things will get back to “normal”
  • Virtual tours are a great example of how we’ve adapted
  • When I first saw a billboard for telemedicine, years ago, I thought, “Who’s going to want telemedicine?” But without it, many people (particularly in skilled nursing) wouldn’t have been able to see their physicians; we went from talking about it to it being a key part of life

Consumer Behavior Survey

We just completed a 1,000-person survey of four market areas in Pennsylvania (southeastern, south-central, west-central and northeast), one in Maryland and one in Delaware.

Too often, we’re talking in anecdotes, but we need to use data that tracks consumer behavior. This is especially risky when talking about the coronavirus.

  • Background on the study
    • Participants are 60 to 80 years old; all income groups
    • Conducted last week in July/first week in August
    • Asked approximately 50 questions
    • All telephone conversations (landline and mobile)
    • Allowed us to reach the “essential non-customers”
    • With people at home, it was easier to reach them; they’re still answering their phones
    • Completed 1,000 surveys in five days
  • What’s key is that this survey has statistical validity—it provides insight into the thinking of consumers rather than anecdotes

Early on, it was clear that we (as an industry) knew neither the questions to ask nor the answers. Today, there’s more clarity about the former (the questions that we, as an industry, should be asking) and an ability to obtain the answers. Hence this survey.

We asked the question, “How concerned are you about coronavirus in your area?” Seventy-eight percent are very or somewhat concerned about the coronavirus in their area. For those whose adult children are involved in making decisions about retirement living options, that number increases to 87 percent.

It’s also notable that, in this and prior surveys:

  • The percentage of people who are concerned about future long-term care needs is typically low
  • The percentage of people who are concerned about their ability to afford their retirement is also low
  • The percentage of people who are concerned about dementia or Alzheimer’s, for themselves and those they love, is incrementally higher than the other two—but still a fraction of those concerned about the coronavirus

We then assessed the impact of COVID-19 on Senior Living Community (SLC) interest later in the study:

  • By and large, every cross-tab is very or less interested due to the coronavirus
    • With respect to SLC interest, there are as many people who are less interested as there are who are more interested—due to the coronavirus
    • Interestingly, people who identify as evangelicals are 17% less interested in senior living communities than the average (due to the coronavirus)
    • There’s still a core of people who remain interested, which may be proving the naysayers wrong, but: (a) it’s too soon to know for sure, and (b) the coronavirus has significantly reduced interest in senior living “congregate”-type options
      • The field could be in jeopardy if the virus stays around
      • The virus has, conversely, also made some people more interested
    • Note: This study won’t be valid six months or a year from now—everything is changing so quickly
    • It’s critical to talk to people who are “the essential non-customers”—those who are living outside the senior living world (and who aren’t on your lists)—to understand who is motivated and why
      • Ask how they feel about congregate living on their overall health and well-being
      • In unprecedented times, we need to rely on information that’s current
    • I was wrong about the recession in 2008–2010—I thought the loss of value in portfolios would have a searing effect on people’s decisions about senior living, much in the way the depression impacted how people spent money
      • This didn’t happen, and the for-profit sector took advantage of that
      • The not-for-profit sector did not jump on it
    • It’s possible that, six months from now, if there’s an effective vaccine, the consumer could forget about this—but it’s also possible that it will stay with them for a long time, perhaps forever
    • It’s important to note that concerns about the coronavirus did not increase the interest in a stay-at-home program (though the percentage of people “very interested” in a stay-at-home program is twice what it is for a senior living community)
    • HJ Sims is soon coming out with a national study that will be fascinating to review; it, hopefully, will include all regions of the country, not just those heavily impacted by COVID-19
    • The secret to success is data analytics, and WildFig (Varsity’s sister firm) is ahead of the curve
    • “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that: It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm Emanuel

Please join us for our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 17, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact .

 

One major myth about older adults and technology is that they don’t use it because they don’t understand it. But that idea is as outdated as a flip phone. From social media to online banking, older Americans are adopting tech at the speed of light.

Recent findings by the Link-Age Connect 2019 Technology Survey of Older Adults Age 55-100, also featured in Senior Housing Forum, bear that out. Smartphone use in particular has been skyrocketing. Among people ages 70-74, it shot up from 54 percent to 81 percent. That’s in just the past three years.

Unexpected  Choices

What’s even more surprising than the speed at which older adults are adopting new technologies? The reasons why some are unplugging from tech completely. Or at least using it less. Seniors often make this change, not because they’re confused about technology, but because they’re making a conscious choice to live offline. Here are some of their very smart reasons:

    1. Older adults prefer human connection. As smartphone penetration spikes ever higher in people of all ages, we’re all on our phones, all the time. Even when we get together, we’re logging on to check social media or our daily step count instead of talking to one another. Older Americans have the wisdom of knowing that time on this earth  is precious. It’s important to spend it with family and friends instead of glued to a device. One quote from the study proves the point. “I think technology is taking over people’s lives and it takes away from relationships with people.” – Female, age 95-99.
    2. They’re simplifying their lives. Older adults often have a desire for minimalism that goes hand in hand with human connection. The survey states, “As people age, they simplify their lives, allowing more time for personal interaction and less time for things that ‘busy’ them or take them away from time with family and friends.” Another quote adds,“It isn’t necessarily about teaching older adults to use a technology. It very well could be that they have used it and walked away from it because they do not want it in their lives any longer.”
    3. They’re watching their budget. Those on a fixed income struggle to pay for technology. For instance, only 25% of affordable housing residents have in-home WiFi , compared to 90% of the greater population. Even when older adults can afford to spend more, they follow the principle: “If it works, don’t fix it.”  Sure, marketing campaigns are persuading other generations that they need to spend hundreds on the latest Smartphone. But older Americans often aren’t interested in updating just to get the latest bells and whistles. If it’s a “want” instead of a true need, they’ll keep the device that still works just fine.

 Personality Trumps Age 

The study also found that technology adoption relates more to personality than age. Comments from two different survey participants underscore that point: “I L-O-V-E technology.” – Female, age 84. “I prefer to use it when I want to and not be run by it or tied to it.” – Female, age 95-99. At Varsity, we’ve expressed our opinions before about not lumping everyone 65+ into one category. This new research has driven home, once again, that people of ages need to be seen as individuals — when it comes to technology or anything else.

This past week, I attended the LeadingAge Colorado 2019 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Vail, Colorado. One of my most profound experiences there was hearing a presentation by keynote speaker Jonathan Fanning. In his speech, Fanning challenged us to “happen to the world.” Our speaker’s assumption was that too many of us don’t happen to the world.  Instead, the world happens to us.

To me, his message had personal meaning. You see, in our business, we often allow life to simply happen to us. This is true not only at work, but too often in our personal lives as well. When we allow life to just happen to us, we usually find ourselves in a place where we feel less in control of circumstances. Perhaps, we even feel  victimized by life’s events.

My Early Travels
Fanning’s talk brought me back to a time early in my career, when I had begun traveling for work. Throughout my career, I’ve continued to have many opportunities to travel across the country and the world. (That’s why my agency, Varsity, ended up creating Flat Wayne,  my alter ego, an intrepid traveler who shows up in cities all over and is always the life of the party.)

Today, I’m as gregarious as “Flat Wayne,” but early on, I would spend most nights huddled around my paperwork within the four walls of the hotel. My work was always the most important task for the evenings, along with a lonely dinner.

Thinking Differently
One of my mentors challenged me to think differently about my travel. He tasked me with doing two things: One was to always find something unique about the area I was visiting and to go see that place or event. The other challenge was to never dine alone. Although a bit more difficult, the effort to always find a dinner guest, regardless of the time zone, allowed me to make life happen.

These small changes in my travel habits have helped me foster more meaningful relationships. That  brought me greater work-life balance over time. I now have a greater sense of so many local cultures, and stay in learning mode.

Making Life Happen
Most of us spend so much of our day with activities centered around work. When I learned how to make life happen through intentionally engaging with the people and environments around me, good things happened. I found fulfillment in relationships and learned so much more about the world. Life had more meaning and purpose. I now look forward with anticipation to opportunities to learn during my travels. More importantly, I  connect with people and break bread together. No longer does life just happen. I make it happen.

As leaders in our category, what are we doing daily and weekly to “happen” to our world? What’s our purpose in life? Why are we here? Who matters to us and why?

Finding Meaning 
Wrestling with the above questions, though challenging, can reveal answers that raise incredible considerations for each of us. We can work to promote meaning for our life and for others. Having a clearer understanding of our answers helps us act with more intention. We can control more of what goes on in our lives and how we create opportunity for meaning  purpose for those who’ve entrusted us with their well-being.

 

 

Soon, older adults will have access to a breakthrough new tool to improve their quality of life. Mohammad Mahoor, PhD, director of the computer vision and social robotics laboratory at the University of Denver, has spent the last decade working with his students to create and refine an amazingly lifelike, socially assistive robot named Ryan, which can provide deep social interaction and companionship to people living alone.

Designed to address challenges of aging — like dementia, depression and loneliness — this “companionbot” can recognize faces and emotions, express feelings, hold conversations and remember individual comments for future interactions to build a relationship over time. Ryan’s face is expressive and lifelike; she can turn her head to react to voices and movement, and her torso contains a screen for playing music and games, watching videos, looking at photos and doing other activities. Ryan’s next iteration will also have active arms so she can coach people in light exercises to improve their physical fitness.

In a pilot study, six residents at Eaton Senior Communities in Lakewood, Colorado, had 24/7 access to Ryan in their apartments for a period of 4–6 weeks. Ryan was customized for each participant, with photos for an album, daily schedules, favorite music and topics of interest for YouTube video searches. Participants could call Ryan by the name of their choice.

Observations, interviews and analyses revealed that the residents established rapport with the robot and greatly valued and enjoyed having a companionbot in their apartment. They also believed that the robot helped them maintain their schedule, improved their mood and stimulated them mentally. One user shared that, “She [Ryan] was just enjoyable. We were SAD to see her go.”

After the staff at Eaton Senior Communities told me how thrilled the residents were with their experiences with Ryan, I spoke with Dr. Mahoor about his invention.

 

 Wayne: Why did you create Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: We wanted to address the needs of older people living with dementia, loneliness and depression. There is a shortage of caregivers, and care is expensive — Ryan is a great form of companionship. She can help seniors lead better lives at home.

 

Wayne: Can you talk about the testing process?

Dr. Mahoor: The first round of testing, in 2016, was a six-month, piloted study at Eaton Senior Communities. All of the features were not ready, the cognitive games were simple, and the speech recognition had some glitches — but we received very positive feedback. After making changes, we did two more pilot studies this year. One focused on how Ryan can help people with dementia through cognitive behavioral therapy. The second pilot study was totally autonomous. Users had half an hour of interaction with Ryan for 3–4 weeks to test the emotion recognition technology.

 

Wayne: Were there any surprises when people first began interacting with Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: At first, we had a fear that people wouldn’t like Ryan. But even in the early stages, they reacted very positively. We noticed that the more time they spent talking with Ryan, the more they enjoyed it, and they wanted her to tell them more stories and jokes — even gossip! When we took the robot away from one of the residents, he literally cried. The bond was so strong that he was very sad. It was really surprising for me that a robot could make such a huge impact on people’s lives. I didn’t expect that much of a connection between machine and human.

 

Wayne: What challenges did you face when test-driving Ryan?
Dr. Mahoor: One of the challenges is that you have to be patient because multiple people cannot talk to Ryan at the same time — you have to take your turn so that she can listen and understand you.

 

Wayne: What kinds of results have you had?

Dr. Mahoor: When we measured mood and depression before, during and after phase one of our study, we found that Ryan significantly improved users’ moods and lessened their depression.

 

Wayne: What’s next for Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: We received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for phase one, and now we are in transition to phase two. NIH has approved our next grant from a scientific perspective. Now it just needs to approve the budget. Phase two would be a grant of over a million dollars to help us study Ryan’s impact on the progression of dementia.

 

Wayne: How unique is Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: There are other robots out there, but this is the first one developed with features customized to help with depression and dementia through social conversations, games and other interactions.

 

Wayne: When will Ryan be available on the market?

Dr. Mahoor: We are very close; I’m hoping by the end of the year. We’ve started working with investors to begin production. Users love Ryan, the feedback has been positive, and we’ve made improvements. It’s time to go to market to fulfill our mission of helping the health care industry.

 

Wayne: How much will she cost?

Dr. Mahoor: Manufacturing each Ryan costs thousands, so to make her more cost-effective, we have a subscription-leasing plan in mind. The cost would be about $400 per month for individuals, but if a corporation wanted to lease multiple Ryans, the rate would adjust. One Ryan can be reprogrammed to serve multiple residents.

 

Wayne: What would you say to people who worry that robots will take over the world?

Dr. Mahoor: Ryan is going to complement the time and support of caregivers and help make their lives easier — not take over and replace them.

 

Wayne: Are you surprised at where you are today?

Dr. Mahoor: Yes. When we first started several years ago, I didn’t think we’d be in a position to commercialize the invention; I didn’t think we’d be a startup meeting with investors. I’m so happy about our progress. For us to be in a position to bring a robot to market that’s going to improve health care and impact people’s lives for the better is amazing.

 

Learn more about Dr. Mahoor’s companionbot, Ryan, at Dreamfacetech.com.