The Association Between Social Isolation and Memory Loss Among Older Adults

J Am Board Fam Med. 2022 Sep 16;jabfm.2022.AP.210497. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2022.AP.210497. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Social isolation among older individuals is associated with poor health outcomes. However, less is known about the association between social isolation and memory loss, specifically among Medicare enrollees in large, integrated health care systems.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional, observational study. From a cohort of 46,240 Medicare members aged 65 years and older at Kaiser Permanente Northwest (KPNW) who completed a health questionnaire, we compared self-reported memory loss of those who reported feeling lonely or socially isolated and those who did not, adjusting for demographic factors, health conditions, and use of health services in the 12 months before the survey.

Results: Patients who reported sometimes experiencing social isolation were more likely than those who rarely or never experienced social isolation to report memory loss in both unadjusted (odds ratio [ORsometimes]: 2.56, 95% CI= 2.42-2.70, P = 0.0076) and adjusted (ORsometimes: 2.45, 95% CI= 2.32-2.60, P = .0298) logistic regression models. Similarly, those who reported social isolation often or always were more likely to report memory loss than those who reported rarely or never experiencing isolation in both unadjusted (ORoften/always: 5.50, 95% CI = 5.06-5.99, P < .0001) and adjusted logistic regression models (ORoften/always: 5.20, 95% CI = 4.75-5.68, P < .0001).

Conclusions: The strong association between social isolation and memory loss suggest the need to develop interventions to reduce isolation and to evaluate their effects on potential future memory loss.

Keywords: Integrated Health Care Systems; Logistic Models; Medicare; Memory Disorders; Outcome Assessment; Risk Assessment; Self-Report; Social Determinants of Health; Social Isolation.