https://people.com/pets/long-term-pet-ownership-can-slow-cognitive-decline-seniors-study/

Long-Term Pet Ownership Can Slow Cognitive Decline in Older Adults, New Study Finds

The University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study found adults around the age of 65 that owned pets for five or longer had higher cognitive scores than those in the same age group without pets

By People StaffFebruary 23, 2022 03:40 PM

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CREDIT: GETTY

A new study reveals that owning pets for more than five years can slow cognitive decline in older people.

A team at the University of Michigan studied over 1,300 people with an average age of 65 and found that owning a pet long-term staved off aging in the brain.

However, the benefits were more significant for Black people, college-educated people, and men.

The results of the preliminary study are due to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting held in Seattle in April.

“Prior studies have suggested that the human-animal bond may have health benefits like decreasing blood pressure and stress,” study author Dr. Tiffany Braley of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor told SWNS.

RELATED: Study Uses Science to Confirm That Cuddling a Dog Is Good for Your Health

“Our results suggest pet ownership may also be protective against cognitive decline,” she added.

All the study participants had average cognitive skills at the beginning of the six-year study.

Researchers used data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study to look at 1369 people, 53% of whom owned pets, 32% were long-term pet owners — defined as those who owned pets for five years or more.

Of study participants, 88% were white, 7% were Black, 2% were Hispanic, and 3% were of another ethnicity or race.

RELATED VIDEO: Woman Cares for 80 Dogs after Turning her Home into a Canine Hospice

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Researchers used cognitive tests to develop a composite cognitive score for each person, ranging from zero to 27. The score included tests of subtraction, numeric counting, and word recall. Researchers then compared participants’ composite cognitive scores with years of pet ownership and cognitive function.

Over the six years, cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate in pet owners, with the difference strongest among long-term pet owners.

Considering other factors known to affect cognitive function, the study showed that long-term pet owners, on average, had cognitive scores that were 1.2 points higher at six years than the non-pet owners’ scores.

The researchers also found that the cognitive benefits associated with long-term pet ownership were more substantial for black adults, college-educated adults, and men.

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Dr. Braley said more research is needed to explore the possible reasons for these associations further.

“As stress can negatively affect cognitive function, the potential stress-buffering effects of pet ownership could provide a plausible reason for our findings,” Dr. Braley said. “A companion animal can also increase physical activity, which could benefit cognitive health.

“That said, more research is needed to confirm our results and identify underlying mechanisms for this association,” she added.

The study did not show what pets people owned or the best ones for preventing the brain’s decline.

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