In a new study from the University of Michigan, researchers found owning a pet, like a dog or cat, especially for five years or longer, may be linked to slower cognitive decline in older adults.
Prior studies have suggested that the human-animal bond may have health benefits like decreasing blood pressure and stress.
The current results suggest pet ownership may also be protective against cognitive decline.
In the study, the team looked at cognitive data from 1,369 older adults with an average age of 65 who had normal cognitive skills at the start of the study.
A total of 53% owned pets, and 32% were long-term pet owners, defined as those who owned pets for five years or more.
Researchers used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a large study of Medicare beneficiaries. In that study, people were given multiple cognitive tests.
Researchers then used participants’ composite cognitive scores and estimated the associations between years of pet ownership and cognitive function.
They found over six years, cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate in pet owners. This difference was strongest among long-term pet owners.
Taking into account other factors known to affect cognitive function, the team showed that long-term pet owners, on average, had a cognitive composite score that was 1.2 points higher at six years compared to non-pet owners.
The researchers also found that the cognitive benefits associated with longer pet ownership were stronger for Black adults, college-educated adults and men.
The team says as stress can negatively affect cognitive function, the potential stress-buffering effects of pet ownership could provide a plausible reason for the findings.
A companion animal can also increase physical activity, which could benefit cognitive health.
If you care about cognitive decline, please read studies about inflammation that may actually slow down cognitive decline in older people, and findings that low vitamin D may speed up cognitive decline.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about common exercises that could protect against cognitive decline, and results showing that this MIND diet may protect your cognitive function, prevent dementia.
The study was presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting and was conducted by Tiffany Braley et al.
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