Combating Loneliness in the Aging Population

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The world’s aging population is expanding rapidly, and by 2050 more than one out of five people will be age 60 or older. A new epidemic is growing just as quickly, with 43% of people over 60 reporting that they are suffering from loneliness.

With an impact often equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, loneliness can have a devastating effect on both cognitive and physical health, including:

Examining this Growing Issue

To better understand the impact of loneliness on the aging population, IBM’s Institute for Business Value (IBV) and the IBM Accessibility Research team conducted interviews with a global ecosystem of medical professionals, social workers, consumer and electronics manufacturing experts, advocacy leaders, as well as software startups and government officials for its latest study, “Loneliness and the aging population – how businesses and governments can address a looming crisis.

The report addresses how organizations can better understand loneliness and aging, and provides recommended actions to mitigate loneliness among older adults.

According to Dr. Paul Tang, Vice President, Chief Health Transformation Officer at IBM Watson Health, “Loneliness in older adults has been described as ‘your world dying before you do.'” Loneliness nearly always stems from some individual or societal loss including:

  • Retirement
  • Mobility or access to transportation
  • Family and friends to old age and physical distance

Report Findings

In order to address these losses, the report finds that the most effective solutions – like those that treat ailments such as heart disease and diabetes – involve identifying those at risk and helping by taking preventative action.

The study highlights the need to re-examine many aspects of society from employment to education, transportation, housing, and more. Researchers, advocacy groups and public health workers require better tools to aggregate and mine data to identify people and communities at risk, and quickly deploy intervention. And, when loss does occur, older adults need the tools and support to build and enhance their social capital, in the same way they might manage and maintain their financial resources.

When it comes to developing services and offerings to help older adults connect with their loved ones, engage with their community, and build new social connections, the IBV study recommends the following:

  • No one organization can solve this issue on its own: Solutions designed to keep people connected need to engage and integrate many stakeholders, including infrastructure providers, government agencies, healthcare and advocacy organizations.
  • Customized, relevant content and services are essential: To successfully build and enhance social capital, solutions need to be tailored to the interests of the individual and adapted to their communities.
  • Personalization takes priority over simplification: Solutions should be able to adapt to the wide variation of technical fluency within the aging community.
  • And ultimately, scalability is the brass ring: While there are many successful pilots and programs in place today, they operate in relative isolation and require a high degree of customization, which limits their ability to expand. Future solutions need to offer both ease of customization and cost effective scalability.

Next Steps

IBM is committed to playing a pivotal role in addressing the challenges of our aging population and working with partners to create solutions that reduce isolation and promote wellness.

There is enormous opportunity across multiple sectors, from universities working with communities to create inter-generational housing for students and seniors, to telecommunications providers working with electronics vendors on virtual town-square projects, to self-driving vehicles – whose most enthusiastic early adopters may be older adults.

To support these solutions, cognitive computing and the Internet of Things to deliver data integration, personalization, natural language and scalability will be essential.

For more information and to download the report, please visit

For information on IBM aging and eldercare solutions, please visit

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