Pets can boost cognitive health in older adults living alone

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A study published in JAMA Network Open on December 26 sheds light on the positive impact of pet ownership on the cognitive health of older adults, especially those living alone.

Conducted by Yanzhi Li, Ph.D., and colleagues from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, the research explored this association among 7,945 participants, with an average age of 66.3 years, in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

The findings revealed a significant association between pet ownership and slower cognitive decline.

Specifically, pet owners exhibited slower rates of decline in composite verbal cognition, verbal memory, and verbal fluency, measured in standard deviation (SD) per year.

The beneficial effects of pet ownership were particularly pronounced among older adults living alone.

In this group, pet ownership was linked to notably slower rates of decline in these cognitive areas, with β coefficients of 0.023 SD/year for composite verbal cognition, 0.021 SD/year for verbal memory, and 0.018 SD/year for verbal fluency.

However, this positive correlation was not observed in older adults who lived with others. The absence of this association in the latter group suggests that the companionship and emotional support provided by pets could be especially crucial for those who live alone.

The study authors suggest that pet ownership might offer a practical way to slow down cognitive decline in older adults, particularly for those without regular human companionship.

The presence of a pet could provide mental stimulation, emotional support, and a sense of purpose, all of which are known to contribute positively to cognitive health.

The researchers call for randomized clinical trials to further investigate whether pet ownership can actively slow down cognitive decline in older adults living alone.

Such trials could provide more definitive evidence and help establish pet ownership as a simple yet effective intervention to maintain cognitive health in older age.

This study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the multifaceted benefits of pet ownership, particularly for older adults.

It highlights the potential of pets not just as companions but as key contributors to the mental and emotional well-being of seniors living independently.

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The research findings can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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