Old Man image credit pixabay/omeralnahi

Paul Tang Vice President, Chief Health Transformation Officer at IBM Watson Health (Image credit LinkedIN)
Paul Tang
Vice President, Chief Health Transformation Officer at IBM Watson Health

The IBM Institute of Business Value (IBV) has published a fascinating report:: “Loneliness and the aging population – how businesses and governments can address a looming crisis“. It is recommended reading, irrespective of the conclusions, for its ability to eye open. Its publication follows on from the United Nations’ expectation that, by 2050:

  • Japan and Germany will have close to 40 percent or more of their population over the age of 60
  • the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom will have approximately 30 percent of the same age group.


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’, In order to mitigate loneliness, we need to help people rebuild social connections and engagement with their communities. Future solutions will require innovative thinking, disruptive organizational and business models, as well as the support of new technologies to adapt to the needs of a changing society.”

Digging deeper

Loneliness in older adults is well documented. Less well known is loneliness a carries health risks equivalent to those of smoking and diabetes. Suprisingly it delivers an overall 26 percent increase in mortality. The impact extends beyond personal health issues, though these are what will hit us most acutely. Governments struggle to manage social care budgets; communities could lose the contribution and participation of older adults in civic activities if action is not taken.

The IBV conducted interviews globally, with medical professionals, social workers, consumer and electronics manufacturing experts, advocacy leaders, software startups and government officials for its study. The report is not oriented to the individual. Instead, it focuses on how institutions can understand loneliness and ageing. It recommends actions to foster greater connection among older adults.

Additionally, it provides recommended actions to foster greater connection among older adults. It also suggests leveraging a range of technologies based on cognitive computing and cloud platforms, with:

  • visual recognition
  • data integration
  • artificial intelligence.


The underlying motivation is that any number of entities – from governments to cities, agencies, hospital networks, telecommunication vendors, software builders, etc. – should create cost-effective, community-based solutions. An important emphasis is they personalise solutions which adapt to the needs of each ageing individual.

Hidden consequences

The hidden costs of loneliness in the older adult population have economic and social consequences. From businesses with employees struggling as caregivers, communities losing the contribution of older adults in civic activities, to governments trying to manage their overall social care budgets, the lack of social cohesion has ripple effects going far beyond health impacts. In combination, they represent a public health conundrum that has the potential to worsen as the older adult population continues to grow.

When it comes to implementing services and offerings to help older adults connect and engage with their community and build new social connections, the IBV recommends government agencies, healthcare providers and advocacy groups:

  • investigate the use of cognitive systems which aggregate data, connect organisations and match and manage individual social and medical needs to programs and resources within the community.
  • consider how existing network infrastructures – such as telecommunications providers, postal systems or emergency responders – can identify and mitigate loneliness in a population becoming older.


Building solutions flexible enough to address different levels of technical capability within an ageing population will be hard. They must leverage techniques like cognitive technologies to personalise offerings. These should reflect an individual’s preferences as well as connect them to relevant content and interests.

In a different context, the establishment of ecosystems and networks, both for providers and ageing consumers, will be a necessity if individuals are to sustain lifelong learning experiences and open new opportunities. It is these which will enable those ageing to remain vital with increasing years.

Not considered in depth are the ‘simpler’ impacts of tablets and self-driving transport. The former already bring ‘computing’ to a part of the population which do not have traditional computing skills. Notably those technologies do so for infants and children as well as those who age. The latter adds, possibly, the biggest gift of all: transportation flexibility on-demand, whenever the elderly want. Both will part, in some form, of the ‘solutions’ sought by the IBV.

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Charles Brett is a business/technology analyst consultant. His specialist areas include enterprise software, blockchain and enterprise mobility tech (including metering). Specific industry sectors of interest and experience include finance (especially systems supporting wholesale finance), telecommunications and energy. Charles has spoken at multiple industry conferences, has written for numerous publications (including the London Times and the Financial Times). He was the General Chair of the bi-annual High Performance Systems Workshop, 2005. In addition he is an author and novelist. His Technology books include: Making the Most of Mobility Vol I (eBook, 2012); Explaining iTunes, iPhones and iPads for Windows Users (eBook, 2011); 5 Axes of Business Application Integration (2004). His published novels, in the Corruption Series, include: The HolyPhone Confessional Crisis, Corruption’s Price: A Spanish Deceit and Virginity Despoiled. The fourth in The Corruption Series - Resurrection - has is now available. Charles has a B.A. and M.A in Modern History from the University of Oxford. He has lived or worked in Italy, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, California and New York, Spain, Israel, Estonia and Cyprus.


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