COVID-19 continues to upend normal life and put stress on individuals, families, communities and businesses, alike. While much of the world's population exercises social distancing or experiences total lockdown to protect one’s physical health, the resulting feelings of isolation may exacerbate two other growing health problems – loneliness in the elderly, and the ongoing, global mental health crisis.
While the elderly stand to gain the most from social distancing for their physical health, they are also among the communities most negatively impacted by isolation. In fact, the loneliness epidemic was already a growing concern for the elderly, and is known to cause real suffering, like depression and anxiety, but also aggravate other health problems such as cognitive decline and heart disease. Medical research cites loneliness contributes to a 26% increase in overall mortality rates.
A recent report from IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) includes research on how loneliness directly impacts personal, economic and social well-being in older adults, while outlining the major role technology plays in driving positive change – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology platforms can be used to match volunteers to help older adults experiencing loneliness; data can combine with the professional and lived experience of retired individuals in customized and personalized solutions that help combat loneliness and isolation with interaction and inclusion; and technology can help deliver these solutions at scale.
Similarly, technology has the potential to help those battling mental health problems brought on during the COVID-19 outbreak. Mental health was already a global crisis and afflicts one out of every 10 people in the world. Many are currently experiencing a decline in emotional well-being, but for those with anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges, coping with this stress can aggravate underlying conditions. That is why addressing mental distress in these uncertain times is key to lessening the impact.
Another IBM report, “How Technology and Data Can Improve Access to Mental Health Resources,” describes the role technology can play in providing 24/7 real time care. This includes increasing access to medical resources and remote care, while also reducing the stigma or shame often associated with mental health. In the workplace, which is one of the most significant factors that can affect an employee’s emotional well-being, businesses can adopt technology to prioritize mental health and enable employees’ access to mental health resources.
Dr. William Kassler, Deputy Health Officer and Lead Population Health Officer, IBM Watson Health is available for interviews to discuss two recent reports from IBM’s Institute for Business Value that detail how technology can both improve access to mental health resources as well as help the loneliness epidemic among the elderly.
A public health expert, Dr. Kassler has spent his career working at the intersection of clinical care and population health and can also share what IBM is doing today to help address mental health and loneliness during the uncertain times of the coronavirus.