Is Loneliness Impacting Your Brain Function?

a person walking through the woods alone

Do you ever feel lonely or disconnected from others? You may feel like you’re the only one, but loneliness can affect anyone, and it can be devastating for your health.

Alarming results from a 2024 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Association show that loneliness is worse for your health than alcohol abuse, obesity, or even smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness can strike anyone at any age. In fact, a 2019 study in International Psychogeriatrics found that loneliness peaks at three periods in life: during the late 20s, mid-50s, and late 80s.

Be aware that loneliness does not necessarily mean being alone or not having friends. It is subjective distress, meaning the discrepancy between the social relationships you have versus the ones you want.

Alarming results from a 2024 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Association show that loneliness is worse for your health than alcohol abuse, obesity, or even smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Click To Tweet


Loneliness is increasing. About 1 in 3 U.S. adults age 45 or over say they feel lonely, according to research by the AARP Foundation.

Baby Boomers are aging alone more than any generation in U.S. history. About 10% of Americans who are 50 or older don’t have a spouse, partner, or living child. Other sad statistics from a 2017 survey show that more than 1 in 8 people report having no close friends.

In 2017, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called the rising number of lonely people a silent epidemic. In 2023, he released a Surgeon General Advisory calling loneliness a public health crisis.

“Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders,” said Dr. Murthy in the advisory. “Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.”


This is troubling because humans are social animals. Social connectivity is hard-wired into our brains. Loneliness or social isolation isn’t good for you, and it certainly isn’t good for your brain.

According to a 2021 systematic review on the neurobiology of loneliness, being lonely has been associated with abnormal brain structure, including both white and gray matter. In addition, this review revealed abnormal brain activity in several regions, including the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, insula, amygdala, and posterior superior temporal cortex.

Loneliness has also been linked to changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study in JAMA Psychiatry.

Mounting evidence, including research in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, shows that when we are lonely and/or disconnected from others, it can have negative consequences for us physically, cognitively, and emotionally.


Loneliness and a lack of social connection are harmful to your physical health in many ways. For example, according to the Surgeon General’s advisory, being lonely raises your risk of stroke by 32% and heightens the risk of heart disease by 29%.

Even more alarming is the fact that a lack of social connection makes you 60% more likely to die a premature death.

In addition, research has found that loneliness impairs the immune system, increasing the risk of infections and diseases.

The physical damage associated with being lonely is more harmful than you might imagine. In fact, loneliness has been found to be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to social-connectedness expert Julianne Holt-Lunstad.


Loneliness also negatively impacts cognitive function and mental health. A 12-year study on older adults found that those reporting loneliness experienced cognitive decline at a 20% faster pace than people who were connected to others.

Poor social connections lead to a 50% increased risk of developing dementia in older adults, based on the Surgeon General’s advisory. And loneliness is a recognized risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Feeling alone has also been associated with clinical depression, social anxiety, and substance use disorders. And Baby Boomers who are lonely have the highest rate of suicide, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.


Why is it that in this age of “social media” we’re feeling more lonely? Social media is rapidly replacing in-person connections, but checking in with people online doesn’t provide us with the same benefits as socializing face-to-face.

In fact, in a 2018 study there was a clear, causal link between Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram and depression and loneliness, especially in teenage girls. In addition, reearch in Body Image found that these sites also make vulnerable people feel worse about their bodies.


If you’re feeling lonely, don’t give up hope. You can learn to reconnect with others and strengthen your social bonds. Try one of these strategies:

  1. Volunteer: Giving back provides a wide range of health benefits and offers opportunities to connect with other people. Look for local organizations where you can put your skills to good use.
  2. Get involved: Find organizations—such as religious, educational, or political—that you can join in your community.
  3. Read all about it: If you’re a reader, find a local book club. Many local libraries offer book discussion groups or author events.
  1. Reach out: Make an effort to connect with family and friends. A simple text or email can open the door to rekindling a relationship.
  1. Get a pet: Having a dog, cat, hamster, turtle, or any other animal can make you feel more connected. In fact, 85% of pet owners say that interacting with their pets reduces feelings of loneliness, according to a survey by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute.
  2. See a mental health professional: Seeking help from a psychiatrist or psychotherapist can be helpful in learning strategies to help you feel less lonely.

Overcoming loneliness can be highly beneficial for your physical health, cognitive function, and mental wellness. Make it a point to connect with someone today.

Loneliness, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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