Loneliness and cognitive function in the older adult: a systematic review

Int Psychogeriatr. 2015 Apr;27(4):541-53. doi: 10.1017/S1041610214002749. Epub 2015 Jan 2.


Background: Loneliness is a significant concern among the elderly, particularly in societies with rapid growth in aging populations. Loneliness may influence cognitive function, but the exact nature of the association between loneliness and cognitive function is poorly understood. The purpose of this systematic review was to synthesize current findings on the association between loneliness and cognitive function in older adults.

Method: A comprehensive, electronic review of the literature was performed. Criteria for inclusion were original quantitative or qualitative research, report written in English, human participants with a mean age ≥ 60 years, and published from January 2000 through July 2013. The total number of studies included in this systematic review was ten.

Results: Main findings from the ten studies largely indicate that loneliness is significantly and negatively correlated with cognitive function, specifically in domains of global cognitive function or general cognitive ability, intelligence quotient (IQ), processing speed, immediate recall, and delayed recall. However, some initial correlations were not significant after controlling for a wide range of demographic and psychosocial risk factors thought to influence loneliness.

Conclusions: Greater loneliness is associated with lower cognitive function. Although preliminary evidence is promising, additional studies are necessary to determine the causality and biological mechanisms underlying the relationship between loneliness and cognitive function. Findings should be verified in culturally diverse populations in different ages and settings using biobehavioral approaches.

Keywords: cognitive function.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests