Having a long-term pet can delay memory loss and other types of cognitive decline, according to a new study. According to preliminary research, owning a pet was particularly beneficial for verbal working memory, such as memorizing word lists.
“To our knowledge, our study is the first to examine the effect of pet ownership duration on cognitive health,” said first author Jennifer Applebaum, sociology doctoral candidate and National Predoctoral Fellow. Institute of Health at the University of Florida, to CNN in an email. .
And it’s not just cats and dogs that can boost the brain. People in the study also cared for rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish and reptiles, Applebaum said, although “dogs were most prevalent, followed by cats.”
Owning pets for five or more years produced the most benefit, delaying cognitive decline by 1.2 points over the study’s six-year period compared to the rate of decline in people without pets. , said Dr. Tiffany Braley, clinical neuroimmunologist, associate professor. of Neurology at the University of Michigan, via email.
“These results provide preliminary evidence to suggest that long-term pet ownership may protect against cognitive decline,” said Braley, lead author of the study which will be presented in April at the 74th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.
Why has having pets for more than five years had the most positive impact? The study, which was only able to show an association, not a direct cause and effect, between pet ownership and cognition, was unable to answer this question.
However, previous studies have pointed to the negative effects of stress on brain health, especially chronic stress, Braley said.
“Previous research has also identified associations between interactions with pets and physiological measures of stress reduction, including reductions in cortisol levels and blood pressure, which in the long term may impact health. cognitive health,” she said.
According to experts, there may also be a host of other brain benefits associated with owning a pet, such as social camaraderie and a sense of duty and purpose.
“Having a pet or multiple pets combines many essential elements of a brain-healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention Clinic at the Center for Brain Health from Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University.
“Cognitive engagement, socialization, physical activity, and sense of purpose may separately, or even more so in combination, address the major modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia in Alzheimer’s disease,” said said Isaacson, who was not involved in the study.
The study analyzed cognitive data from more than 1,300 adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study that tracks the lives of Americans ages 50 and older.
Anyone with cognitive decline at the start of the research was excluded from the analysis. In the final sample, more than 53% owned pets. Pet owners tend to have higher socio-economic status, which could also explain the benefits: experts say people with higher incomes are more likely to see a doctor and take care of their health .
Any brain stimulation associated with pet ownership over five years was “greater for black adults, college-educated adults, and men,” according to the study.
“More research is needed to explain these results,” Applebaum said. Because previous research focused on biased samples made up mostly of white women, “we lack sufficient information about men (and other genders) AND people of color, especially black pet owners,” said she declared.
Does that mean you should rush out and get yourself a pet if you’re a senior citizen interested in preserving your brain? Not necessarily, experts say. Studies have also shown that pet owners can be lonely, depressed, and have chronic illnesses that can make owning a pet negative.
“We don’t recommend pet ownership as a therapeutic intervention,” Applebaum said. “However, we recommend that people who own pets are supported to keep them through public policies and community partnerships.”
Abolishing pet fees on rental accommodations and providing free or low-cost veterinary services would go a long way to helping pet owners keep their pets, “especially in low-income and low-income communities.” communities of color,” Applebaum said.
Other ideas include providing foster or boarding support for people who are unexpectedly unavailable to care for their pets due to a health crisis.
“An unwanted separation from a pet can be devastating to a bonded owner, and marginalized populations are most at risk for these unwanted outcomes,” she said.