Social isolation can lead to cognitive decline. If you spend a lot of time alone, you probably know how it feels. Being around other people can add a spark of happiness and interest to an otherwise lackluster day.

Meaningful bonds and human affection keep the brain healthy. Social scientists have long-ago identified a human need to belong that is as important as food and shelter. In animal studies, social isolation is linked to decreases in brain function and reduced brain volume.

There are a number of factors that can put you at risk for feeling socially isolated. These factors tend to increase with age. Variables like poor mental health, caring for someone else, geographic isolation, communication difficulties, transportation barriers and death of a loved one can isolate just about anyone. These risk factors can make you feel even more isolated when you feel they are outside of your control.

Loss of any kind, including a death or loss of housing, is a strong predictor of social isolation. You certainly can’t control if you’ve lost someone close to you recently. What can you do if you’re feeling the emptiness of where that person used to be?

One study of older adults who recently suffered the death of a spouse found that getting out of the house and experiencing face-to-face interactions with other people who were grieving made a positive difference. When people attended support groups for grieving spouses, they reported less loneliness, better mood and said they felt more socially supported.

If you’re finding yourself grieving and lonely, look to the internet to find a support group in your area. If you don’t have internet access, call your local hospital or church and ask if they can refer you to a support group.