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Brooch-like listening device could help solve elderly loneliness problem, inquiry told

Email Mental health royal commission told wearable tech could help end loneliness By James Bennett

Updated July 19, 2019 18:34:43

A close-up of a women's neck and an ornate broach. Photo: The CaT Pin from RMIT aims to help elderly Australians who are at risk of loneliness. (Supplied: RMIT) Related Story: LGBTQI people under-reporting mental illness due to 'distrust and fear', royal commission told Related Story: 'We're not seeing improvements': Royal commission hears of inter-generational trauma Map: Melbourne 3000

In a break from hearing about what is "broken," the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System has listened to some more uplifting stories about solutions, including a school that enrols kids and their parents, a simple help-your-neighbour program and a device to alert elderly people's families if they're lonely.

Key points:

  • Victoria's mental health royal commission told a wearable device could help stave off loneliness in the elderly
  • The brooch monitors conversation and can alert families to signs of social isolation
  • The commission also heard about school and neighbourhood programs designed to improve mental health

Deputy Director of RMIT's Health Innovation lab, Matiu Bush, told the hearing about new technology designed to track conversation and highlight social isolation and loneliness — issues that are expected to increase as Australia's population ages.

The CaT Pin is designed to be worn as a brooch to monitor how much older people talk and can alert family or carers if they have been without any human contact.

"It is important, because you'll see a 26 per cent increase in mortality if you're chronically isolated," Mr Bush told the royal commission.

The wearable technology can be set-up to send alerts to family or carers at signs of social isolation.

"At the moment, we've got nothing to tell us in real time if someone is isolated or lonely."

The CaT Pin recently won a $10,000 industry grant and researchers have partnered with an aged care provider to continue work on the device.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
  • ReachOut at

Street-by-street program

Mr Bush is also the founder of One Good Street, a program that aims to give people the opportunity to volunteer in their local communities and connect neighbours.

He calls the program "micro-ambitious".

"It's just one street that I have to care for, it's not millions and millions or thousands of people, which is overwhelming," he told the royal commission.

It is a Facebook group which Mr Bush said "makes it really easy for people to do great things for their neighbours."

The idea came to the clinician after he helped an elderly man who had fallen out of bed. That caused Mr Bush to reflect on the burden his assistance had removed from an ambulance crew.

"This is street-by-street, making streets better places and neighbourhoods better places for older people to live, which is very achievable

Schooling for all

The royal commission also heard from the principal of a school in Melbourne's south-east which aims to alleviate disadvantage by making the school a "hub" for families, including students and their parents.

The school strives to help community members with a range of needs including healthcare and adult-learning classes.

The principal of Doveton College, Greg McMahon, told the commission that the school had students from 52 countries, so simple things like helping parents with interpreters to attend parent-teacher nights had reaped big rewards.

The mental health needs were "significant" he said, but the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was among the services which had set up shop.

"We've got significant trauma in the school for a whole range of reasons," Mr McMahon said.

"There are approximately 100 active cases at any time."

While he said he could not comment on mental health outcomes, Mr McMahon did point to students' engagement as a positive sign.

"When I first got to Doveton, 7 per cent of young people did things after hours. By bringing in after-school opportunities we've got it to nearly 70 to 80 per cent of take-up," he said.

The Andrews Government has committed to implementing the recommendations of the royal commission, which is aimed at improving mental health outcomes, and in particular reducing suicide levels.

The hearings are continuing.

More coverage of the mental health royal commission

  • Day 14: LGBTQI people under-reporting mental illness due to 'distrust and fear', royal commission told
  • Day 13: Victoria's Aboriginal mental health services 'lagging behind', royal commission hears
  • Day 12: 'A joke': Farmer travelled hundreds of kilometres to see psychiatrist, royal commission told
  • Day 11: Anna wasn't diagnosed with a mental illness until she went to prison for killing her roommate
  • Day 10: Victoria police responding to a mental health call every 12 minutes, top officer tells inquiry
  • Day Nine: Too sick for a GP, but not 'sick enough for hospital', patient tells mental health royal commission
  • Day Eight: 'I was threatened with involuntary admission', mental health royal commission hears
  • Day Seven: A 'doubling of funding' needed for Victoria's struggling community mental health model, expert testifies
  • Day Six: Victorian Government looks to mental health models in Italy and Netherlands
  • Day Five: Compulsory treatment 'gets a bad rep' but it saved Erica's life
  • Day Four: Mental health royal commission hears suicidal young women was 'greeted with silence'
  • Day Three: Victoria's mental health system failed 'incredibly terrified' girl, royal commission told
  • Day Two: Advocate tells commission of Victoria's 'punitive' mental health system
  • Day One: Former AFL player tells of wanting to take his own life after winning premiership
  • In-depth feature: Chloe left hospital in a daze with a handful of pamphlets. Two days later, she was back

Topics: mental-health, royal-commissions, older-people, information-technology, health, anxiety, welfare, depression, suicide, melbourne-3000, vic, doveton-3177

First posted July 19, 2019 18:19:40

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