Health Risks of Social Isolation and Loneliness

Social isolation and loneliness have become widespread problems in the United States, posing a serious threat to our mental and physical health.

Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to increased risk for:2-7

  • Heart disease and stroke.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Addiction.
  • Suicidality and self-harm.
  • Dementia.
  • Earlier death.
Depressed man looking out the window.

Social isolation is the lack of relationships with others and little to no social support or contact. It is associated with risk even if people don’t feel lonely.

Loneliness is feeling alone or disconnected from others. It is feeling like you do not have meaningful or close relationships or a sense of belonging. It reflects the difference between a person’s actual and desired level of connection. This means that even a person with a lot of friends can feel lonely.

Loneliness and isolation may be shaped by many factors, including culture, demographics, and the places where people live, work, learn, and play.

Feeling Lonely

More than 1 in 3 adults aged 45 and older feel lonely in the United States.5

Illustration of two blue people and one red person, showing approximately one in three.

Factors That Might Increase a Persons’ Risk of Social Isolation and Loneliness1,5,8-13

  • Having a lower income (less than $50,000/year).
  • Having a psychiatric or depressive disorder.
  • Being marginalized or discriminated against.
  • Challenges to accessing resources, such as living in a rural areas, limited transportation, language barriers.
  • Stress due to a lack of resources.
  • Having a chronic disease or condition.
  • Having a long-term disability.
  • Being unmarried, unpartnered, or living alone.
  • Being a victim of violence or abuse.
  • Major life transitions like getting divorced, losing a job, or loss of a loved one.

The Costs of Social Isolation and Loneliness

Loneliness costs the US economy an estimated $406 billion a year14, in addition to the estimated $6.7 billion a year in Medicare costs for socially isolated older adults.15

Research suggests that loneliness impacts some groups more than others,5,8,9 including:

  • Low-income adults.
  • Young adults.
  • Older adults.
  • Adults living alone.
  • People with chronic diseases and disabilities.
  • Immigrants.
  • Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (or queer).
Increased Health Risks

Social isolation increases your risk5 of:

  Dementia by 50%

  Heart disease by 29%

  Stroke by 32%

Older and Isolated

Nearly 1 in 4 adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated.5

Illustration of three blue people and one red person, showing approximately one in four.