Positive power of pets on brain health

A new study has added to the building evidence that owning a pet has a positive effect on ageing.

In the latest study, Pet Ownership, Living Alone, and Cognitive Decline Among Adults 50 Years and Older published recently in JAMA, researchers set out to determine whether pet ownership is associated with cognitive decline in older adults, and in particular how pet ownership (for example, raising cats or dogs) can reduce the rate of cognitive decline in people living alone. The researchers pointed out that older people living alone are at high risk of developing dementia and that the proportion of older people living alone is on the rise.

They tested almost 8000 people aged 50 and above for verbal memory and verbal fluency, skills that are essential to performing daily tasks and remaining independent as people get older, to assess their overall verbal cognition then calculated a composite score.

The study found that pet ownership was associated with slower rates of decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency among individuals living alone, but not among those living with others, and that pet ownership completely offset the associations between living alone and decline in verbal memory, verbal fluency, and composite verbal cognition.

The researchers noted that pet owners living alone did not show faster rates of decline than pet owners living with others.

“These findings suggest that pet ownership might be beneficial for verbal memory and verbal fluency among older adults living alone,” researchers said. They acknowledged that living alone is not a situation that can be easily changed, particularly for older people, but they believed pet ownership is a relatively simple change to make for possible benefits. They concluded that further clinical trials should explore whether pet ownership can slow the rate of cognitive decline, and if the trials confirm their findings, pet ownership may help in slowing cognitive decline and preventing dementia.

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