This study aims to evaluate the impact of social isolation and loneliness, individually and simultaneously, on cognitive function in older adults during a 4-year period, using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, and to evaluate if these associations are moderated by educational level.
Data on social isolation, loneliness, and cognitive function (verbal fluency, immediate recall, and delayed recall) were obtained at baseline. Follow-up measures on cognitive function were obtained 4 years later for 6034 participants (mean age at baseline = 65.6 years). Regression analyses were used to evaluate the association between baseline isolation, loneliness, and cognitive function at follow-up. Interactions between social isolation, loneliness, and educational level were also evaluated.
Baseline isolation was significantly associated with decreases in all cognitive function measures at follow-up (β = −.05 to −.03, p < .001), independently of baseline scores, whereas loneliness was associated with poorer immediate recall (β = −.05, p < .001) and delayed recall (β = −.03, p = .02). There was a significant interaction between educational level and both isolation (p = .02) and loneliness (p = .01) for delayed recall, such that isolation and loneliness were associated with poorer recall only among those with low levels of education.
Loneliness and isolation are associated with poorer cognitive function among older adults. Interventions to foster social connections may be particularly beneficial for individuals with low levels of education.