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Pinning down causes of loneliness: technology takes next steps

The CaT Pin is attempting to tackle the effects of loneliness

Older Melbourne residents who live alone are being invited to trial new technology that aims to measure how the amount of conversations people have in a day correlates with risk of loneliness.

The CaT (Conversation as Therapy) Pin technology was developed by RMIT with Bolton Clarke as part of efforts to tackle loneliness and improve social connection.

The wearable device works by detecting when somebody is speaking and having conversations. It does not record what is being said, but rather how much time is spent in conversation.

Bolton Clarke Research Institute Senior Research Fellow Rajna Ogrin said almost half of all Australians over 65 report feeling lonely sometimes, with the risk increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research shows older people who experience loneliness are at risk of health consequences including disrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure, increases in the stress hormone cortisol, altered immunity and increased depression.

“More research is needed to help us identify people who are at risk of long-term loneliness, so we can do something about preventing it from becoming serious,” Dr Ogrin said.

“To that end we are working with RMIT to find out ways to identify and then help older people who may be feeling lonely.

“We know that how long and how often we talk to people can change how we feel. Therefore, we want to know whether the amount of conversation a person has is linked to loneliness.

“The CaT Pin is a wearable device, developed using cutting edge 3D printing.”

Early testing has involved Bolton Clarke Community Partnership Group members road testing prototype pins, using the instruction guide and activity log and sharing their thoughts on what information could be important when considering how to support people to feel less lonely.

Now, the research team is looking for Melbourne residents aged over 65 who live alone to test the technology.

“We are inviting both people who are feeling lonely and those who aren’t, to see if we can pick up a difference,” Dr Ogrin said.

“As part of testing whether this works, we will also ask people wearing the CaT Pin how they were feeling during the day, with the aim of linking up the level of conversation with those feelings.”

Anyone interested in being involved can contact Dr Rajna Ogrin on 0400-254-459 or email