Wearable tech lends an ear to lonely elderly

Wearable tech lends an ear to lonely elderly

New technology that tracks conversation and can be worn as a brooch is set to improve quality of life for elderly Australians at risk of loneliness.

RMIT researchers have partnered with aged care provider Bolton Clarke to develop the CaT Pin, a wearable device that tracks wearer’s conversation, sending alerts to family or carers at signs of social isolation.

Winner of the Telstra Designing for Aging Well Challenge, the technology works by monitoring baseline conversations and word count throughout the day then prompting social contact when levels drop too low.

The discreet pin can be worn as a lapel pin or brooch and personalised for each wearer by incorporating existing jewellery or items such as medals or textiles into the design.

Project lead and RMIT designer Leah Heiss is a pioneer in wearable health technologies including the Facett hearing aid which won the 2018 Good Design Award.

Heiss said CaT Pin was a low-cost and non-invasive solution to the loneliness experienced due to a lack of social interaction by many among Australia’s elderly population.

“Solutions to this challenge require a human-centred and interdisciplinary approach to technology design,” she said.

CaT Pin prototype The CaT Pin brooch monitors baseline conversation and sends a notification to family members or carers when the wearer is at risk of loneliness.

Bolton Clarke Senior Strategist in Business Innovation, Matiu Bush, said there was a need to address social isolation and loneliness which is predicted to grow in the coming decades as Australia’s population ages.

“The health consequences of loneliness and isolation are dramatic and can include disrupted sleep, high blood pressure, increased depression, lower immunity and generally lower overall wellbeing,” he said.

“Being able to address loneliness can help us to provide a better quality of life for our ageing population.” 

The Designing for Ageing Well Challenge rewards innovative thinking in design to address some of the challenges faced by the healthcare system in supporting Australia’s ageing community.

The $10,000 cash prize will allow the CaT Pin team which, alongside Heiss and Bush, includes RMIT’s Paul Beckett and Glenn Matthews from the School of Engineering and Emma Luke from the School of Design, to develop a proof-of-concept technology for user testing and investigate mass customisation.

The team presented the project at RMIT’s Engaging for Impact event on 19 February alongside the three finalists from the challenge.

Story: Grace Taylor


  • Research
  • Science and technology
  • Design

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.