Bolton Clarke and RMIT Develops CaT Pin to Help Socially Isolated Older Australians

5 years ago
innovAGEING > Case Studies > Bolton Clarke and RMIT Develops CaT Pin to Help Socially Isolated Older Australians

Fighting loneliness

Lonely and socially isolated older Australians are a widely distributed, often secluded population, with a shriking social circle. As a group, it’s a population far more susceptible to illness and injury.

Isolation and loneliness can be dangerous: “extremely” lonely older people are up to 14 per cent more likely to die prematurely. Feeling lonely can increase blood pressure and cortisol levels, which can disrupt sleep and alter genes. Isolation can trigger depression. These conditions have a significant impact on a person’s wellbeing—and how often they visit a doctor, or call an ambulance.

This leaves service providers with a clear design brief: how do we support the independence of older Australians at home, while meeting their social needs? Can technology help older people maintain social connection and improve their quality of life?


Using technology to enhance social contact

A collaboration between Bolton Clarke and RMIT took things back to basics. Together, the team looked at the value of a chat.

The importance of word count is well-documented in children when measuring language acquisition and IQ. Yet daily word count has been seldom explored as a proxy measure for loneliness in older populations.

Using a social and human-centred design approach, the team from Bolton Clarke and RMIT developed an ambient wearable that older people would actually want to wear. The aim was to develop something that could monitor social contact, without the user needing to interact with any confusing interfaces. The goal was to address social isolation in older people with a novel yet intuitive intervention.


The CaT pin

Working at the intersection of design, health and technology, the team came up with the Conversation-as-Therapy (CaT) pin. The pin looks to be a conventional accessory; a personalised brooch. But inside, it’s enhanced with a digital microphone, embedded microprocessor and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transceiver.

This isn’t a full speech recognition system: the BLE receiver monitors ambient sound to identify potential speech. Rather than recording conversations, the pin counts words over time. This makes the technology easier to build, and avoids privacy issues.

There is a service ecosystem response that acts on the data, which can be linked to real-time intervention services. If the pin detects that an older person hasn’t spoken in a day, a text message can be sent to the older person’s friends or relatives, or to a volunteer community service.


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