Worried-looking woman sits on couch with arms folded

A new study finds the incidence of dementia triples among lonely adults who would otherwise be at low risk based on their age and genes.

Researchers at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine said older people under the age of 80 who reported being lonely had a higher 10-year risk of dementia than those who said they weren’t lonely. Loneliness also was associated with worse neurocognitive markers, which suggested early onset of the disease. 

The study involved 2,308 participants, including 1,875 who had not been previously diagnosed with dementia. Loneliness was associated with poorer executive function, lower total cerebral volume and greater white-matter injury.

The study is the latest to link loneliness and social isolation to increased health risks among seniors. A recent study by the Women’s Health Initiative found the risk of heart disease increased 27% among 60,000 post-menopausal women who reported having few social contacts. 

Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have identified social isolation and loneliness as a major public health problem. The CDC said being socially disconnected can increase the risk of death from all causes and can increase the risk of dementia by 50%.