The Longevity

Wait ‘Till You Hear This: Eversound

April 5, 2017 | Guide To, Daily Essential Activities, Social Well-being

By Sally Abrahms

Childhood friends Matt Reiners and Jake Reisch have a lot in common: they were on the same Little League team, had high school lockers next to each other, and have fathers who are professors at Cornell.

In 2015, the 25 year-olds, who together had already launched one audio technology company (you’ll hear soon), shared another bond. Both Reiners’ grandmother and Reisch’s aunt have hearing loss that was preventing them from fully participating in events in their assisted living communities. The young entrepreneurs saw it as a challenge to solve.

It sounds like they have. Reisch, Reiners, and a third founder Devin Jamison, just age 20 at the time, started Eversound. It is the first wireless listening system developed for senior living communities. With special headphones, residents can hear better at group events such as movies, meetings, lectures, theatre, music performances and exercise classes.

Up to 130 long-term care residents at a time can wear the headphones, which can be individually and ergonomically adjusted. They also fit over a hearing aid. A compact wireless transmitter broadcasts the audio signal from any common audio source to all headphones within 300 feet.

Why Senior Communities Are Listening

Eversound has been snapped up by seven of the 20 largest U.S. long term care providers. It is in 100 communities in 18 states that provide various levels of care, including independent and assisted living, skilled nursing and memory.

Why such interest from providers? When residents can hear well there is better attendance, more engagement in the activity, less frustration and hopefully, a better quality of life. Put another way, hearing loss can lead to social isolation, depression and even mental decline.

A study conducted at two facilities using Eversound, one with dementia residents, found that engagement with the headphones increased 28%, with 17% fewer participants leaving the group or falling asleep during the group activity.

This is music to the ears of the founders, who realized that hearing is a huge problem–and market—that is growing rapidly as the baby boomers and older age.

Consider these hearing loss statistics:

  • 18% of ages 45-64
  • 30% of 65-74 year-olds
  • 47% of age 75+
  • 80% of age 85+
  • More than 30 million age 65+ by 2050
  • Only 20% ages 55-74 who could benefit from a hearing aid use one (the hassle of wearing it, the cost, which can be as much as $6,000 and is rarely covered by insurance)

“When I first heard about the system, I thought it would just magnify the volume, but it also eliminates background noise,” says Lucia Leber, executive director of The Residence at Otter Creek in Middlebury, Vermont. Her senior living community is a customer.

The company charges $269/month for 20 headphones, but providers can get more. There is an initial set up fee of $300.

Recently, a former fire chief and new resident from Otter Creek used Eversound at a lecture and a meeting. “For the first time in a long time, he was able to follow what was going on in the room,” recalls Leber. “It changed his life in one day!” Leber finds residents in memory care are more engaged with the system, too.

Adele Pierce, 95, a self-avowed “political freak,” goes to all the lectures on current events there. “I hate straining to listen or sit in the front row under the nose of the speaker. Now I really hear what they have to say,” she says. “I enjoy the event and think, ‘maybe I’ll go to the next one because this was so easy!’”

From Silent Disco to Senior Living

Both of Reisch’s and Reiners’ business ventures involve headphones, yet the audiences could not be more different. Their first company Party Headphones, created in 2013, when Reisch was a junior at Cornell, rents wireless sets to students, companies and organizations for “silent disco” events. Never heard of them? Everyone has headphones and listens to music from different DJs. Participants dance while blasting the tunes but no one can hear them (as in “silent”). Party Headphones and Eversound, which has 12 employees, share headquarters outside of Boston.

As of last year, 35,000 people have used their headphones for silent disco events. Among their clients: Twitter, Spotify and Red Bull.

Reisch thought of the concept after attending a silent disco party on the Cornell campus. The entrepreneurial management and marketing major called Reiners. He was working in sales for a large company–Reisch had taken time off from school–and convinced him to quit to help start Party Headphones.

As the two were building their company, they looked for other ways to apply the technology. Seeing their relatives in senior living challenged by hearing loss made them wonder why there was no alternative to hearing aids.

Reisch did some research. Over three months, he took his Party Headphones prototype to several continuing care communities for multiple visits, asking residents for their input on his model. “It allowed us to get a lot of feedback really quickly,” he says. Residents wanted the headphones to have ergonomic controls and be hearing aid-friendly.

Reisch, now CEO, recruited Cornell sophomore Jamison to help them start Eversound. Reisch calls him “the creative genius of design and product development.” Today he is in charge of the company’s brand.

After refining the prototype, the founders met Costas Papdopoulos, an engineer who had worked on wireless headset technology for the last 30 years—or, as Reisch points, out, longer than the founders have been alive! Papdopoulos, 72, who has some hearing loss, understood the issues loud and clear. He is Eversound’s Chief Technology Officer.

The founders may have distinct titles today, but as in most early stage companies, “at the beginning you need really hungry, driven people who are willing to fill in the gaps and not be assigned to a specific skill set,” says Reisch. “They need resilience to push through challenges.” What he finds most important though, is that  team members must care about the product and the user.

Reiners, who heads up the company’s sales team, agrees: “It gives me goose bumps seeing the impact Eversound is having. I wake up excited knowing that we can help people.” 

No more “what do you say?” “Speak up!” “I can’t hear you!” “Talk louder.”