HomeHealthcare and life sciences

How business and governments can alleviate loneliness in the aging population


For older people, loneliness is an emerging risk factor that has implications for personal, economic, and societal well-being.

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Many of us appreciate the occasional opportunity to disconnect and recharge. But when solitude becomes long-term and turns into loneliness, the results can be potentially devastating, particularly for older adults.

For many, loneliness arises from unmet needs for social interactions. Representing more than just an unwelcome rip in one’s social fabric, it’s a precursor to a host of poor medical and social outcomes that have economic ripple effects across families, multiple industries, and society as a whole.

The increase in the aging population is well-known and well-documented. By 2050, it is expected that Japan, Singapore, Germany, and Italy will have almost 40 percent or more of their population over the age of 60.¹

Even the United States, Canada, Brazil, and the United Kingdom will have approximately 30 percent at this level. With this comes the potential for an increasing lonely older population, wrestling with the need to reclaim its social capital, but without the wherewithal to do so.

The topic has relevance not only to individuals and families, but also to medical professionals, corporations, advocacy groups, and governments that are affected by its consequences. Now, many diverse stakeholders have the opportunity to help mitigate the impact.

To better understand the magnitude of this issue, current interventions, and ideas for future solutions, we conducted 50 interviews with experts from six countries and representing a variety of disciplines. We gained unique insights from this global group of medical professionals, social workers, academic researchers, technologists, consumer and device manufacturing experts, software startups focused on the aging market, advocacy groups, and government officials.

This report focuses on five important questions:

• Why must organizations understand loneliness and aging?

• What precipitates loneliness?

• Why is loneliness so difficult to mitigate?

• How is loneliness in the aging population being alleviated today?

• What are guidelines for future solutions?

¹ United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. “World Population Aging 2015.” 2015. https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/. Accessed on April 12, 2017.

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How can IBM help you?

AI can help the world’s aging population manage life's vital decisions, prolong their independence, and stay more connected with friends and family.

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By leveraging a network of connected devices, sensors and cognitive systems, IBM is helping family members and caregivers proactively monitor the health and well-being of our seniors.

Learn more


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Meet the authors:

Nicola Palmarini

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, Global manager for Aging and Accessibility solutions;
Heather Fraser, Global Lead for Healthcare and Life Sciences, IBM Institute for Business Value; Sheila Zinck

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, Advocacy and Eminence programs lead;
Rebecca Wu

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, Business Analytics and Strategy consultant

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