Why must organisations understand loneliness and ageing? The IBM perspective

Heather Fraser, Global Life Sciences & Healthcare Lead at IBM Institute for Business Value, talks to us about the role organisations play in tackling loneliness.

The IBM Perspective

Living through the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 16 months has been a challenge for all of us, whether it be adapting to working from home and the incessant meetings; the joys of juggling home schooling or the lack of social and physical contact with family, friends, and colleagues. 

With governments implementing self-isolation and social distancing guidance, along with many individual suffering personal loss, the spread of loneliness escalated across a large swath of the population, in particular in the older adults. 

So why should we care? Loneliness has implications for personal, economic, and societal well-being. It can trigger unavoidable physical and cognitive health problems that can decrease the individual’s quality of life. Additionally, there are many hidden costs of loneliness in older adults. These range from businesses whose employees juggle caregiving with work, the loss of voluntary contribution of these individuals to their communities, and governments trying to manage their already stretched social care budgets. This conundrum is only likely to worsen as this demographic continues to grow.

By necessity technology has played a key part in keeping individuals safely connected with their family and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Organisations, whether they be large, SMEs, academia, public, private, or not-for-profit -have rapidly adapted existing solutions and innovated new ones.

  • Call & Check who provides a digital platform supporting community health and social care, rapidly redesigned services provided by postal workers from face-to-face to a telephone interface and virtual visits. 
  • The University College London’s Industry Exchange Network used virtual reality to create a series of three-dimensional social settings, such as a restaurant or a park, encouraging social interaction between those living alone and family members and friends.
  • On Hand, an “Uber for volunteers” developed a technology platform to match volunteers with requests from older adults and their caregivers.
  • VOICE, a part of the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) developed a unique system of digital and physical engagement which combines the professional experience of retired individuals to help drive innovative solutions for ageing. 

And more recently, in a bid to offer some joined-up thinking across research, technologies and innovation of business models associated with ageing, NICA has launched Longevity as a Service™ bringing together companies from a range of different industries. Their motto, “Longevity is a journey, not just a destination”, fills me with optimism as I fast approach a birthday where, in my grandparent’s generation I would have been graduating as an older adult!

So, as we take our first cautious steps on the path out of the COVID-19 pandemic, how can organisations help curb a longer-term loneliness pandemic? What can organisations do to meet the challenges encountered on the longevity journey for the older adult, family, and their friends?  Organisations such as IBM provide opportunities for flexible work and volunteering to ensure the wealth of expertise of the older adult is not lost. They connect individuals to lifelong learning experiences, so they remain intellectually engaged and vital in the workplace. Additionally, organisations can provide volunteer opportunities to benefit employees, retirees, older adults, and society as a whole. 

Start today by looking at your existing organisational networks and infrastructures for opportunities to help mitigate loneliness in our ageing population.

About the Author

Heather Fraser is a pharmacist whose career has spanned the healthcare and life sciences industries. She is passionate about changing how traditional and non-traditional parties across healthcare think about using new technologies to provide optimum patient outcomes. Follow Heather on Twitter @HeatherEFr


  1. Palmarini, Nicola and Heather E Fraser.  “Loneliness and aging: Navigating how business and government can address an enduring crisis.” IBM Institute for Business Value. March 2020. https://www.ibm.com/thought-leadership/institute-business-value/report/loneliness
  2.  “Call & Check – a friendly helping hand.” http://www.jerseypost.com/community/callandcheck/ and interview with Joe Dickinson, Head of Innovation, Call & Check. 
  3.  “University College London and IBM collaborate to develop the IBM IXN: an education programme that brings IBM developer skills to the next generation with real world projects.” IBM. https://uk.newsroom.ibm.com/2020-04-07-UCL-and-IBM-collaborate-to-develop-education-programmes-that-bring-new-skills-to-the-next-generation
  4. “onHand.” www.beonhand.co.uk.
  5. https://www.voice-global.org/
  6. https://www.uknica.co.uk/
  7. https://www.uknica.co.uk/democratizing-longevity-longevity-as-a-service/


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  1. This is a timely piece given the publication of the DCMS employer guide and the upcoming Loneliness Awareness Week. I wonder, is there anything specific you are doing at IBM to mark that week Heather? @OliviaMayaField  is working with a group of organisations each committed to different types of action and awareness raising during the week of 14-18 June. Do you two know each other?

    1. Does anyone have any questions for Heather about her blog or or IBMs approach? Heather has agreed to film a Q&A with me so forward me your questions and we’ll post the video up.

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