WebMD News Brief

Social Isolation Increases Risk of Dementia for Older People, Study Says

photo of distressed senior woman

Jan. 18, 2023 -- Older people who are socially isolated face a 27% higher risk of developing dementia, a new Johns Hopkins study says.

Over nine years, researchers studied 5,000 older Americans aged 65 or above. The average age of the subjects was 76, and they were not living in a residential care facility. About 23% fit the definition of being “socially isolated,” with few relationships and few people to interact with regularly.

During the study period, about 21% of the participants developed dementia. The figure was higher for people who were socially isolated, about 26%.

Among those who were not socially isolated, less than 20% developed dementia.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

To determine an individual’s level of social isolation, the study looked at various factors, such as living alone, discussing “important matters” with two or more people in the past year, attending religious service, or participating in social events.

Social isolation contributes to the risk of dementia, as well as heart disease and depression, NPR reported, citing the CDC. Almost 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

For dementia patients, social engagement can improve quality of life and slow progression.

Cell phones and other technology can help prevent social isolation among older people, NPR reported.

Show Sources

Journal of American Geriatrics Society: “Social isolation and 9-year dementia risk in community dwelling Medicare beneficiaries in the United States”

NPR: “Social isolation linked to an increased risk of dementia, new study finds”

© 2023 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info