Pet Ownership May Delay Cognitive Decline in Older Adults​

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Science has long declared that pets help people de-stress and persist with a healthy routine. They also can decrease depression and physical pain and, in lots of cases, provide a way of purpose.

A recent study suggests that pet ownership is even higher for older people than previously known. This preliminary study, released by researchers on the University of Michigan, has linked long-term pet ownership to delayed aging of the brain in adults over 65. The brand new data might be presented on the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting in Seattle in early April.

“Prior studies have suggested that the human-animal bond can have health advantages like decreasing blood pressure and stress,” said Tiffany Braley, M.D., of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, who oversaw the study, in a press release. “Our results suggest pet ownership might also be protective against cognitive decline.”

Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, an examination of 1,369 Medicare beneficiaries, Braley’s work checked out cognitive data from older adults with a median age of 65 who had normal cognitive skills at the beginning of the study. A complete of 53 percent owned pets, and 32 percent were long-term pet owners who had owned their animals for five years or more.

For that Medicare study, researchers measured cognitive function through various tests, including number counting, subtraction problems and word recall. Participants received a cognitive rating starting from 0 to 27 based on how well they performed.

Over six years, cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate in pet owners, especially for the one-third who fell into the long-term pet owner category. On average, they’d a cognitive composite rating that was 1.2 points higher in comparison with non-pet owners. Those cognitive drops were even lower in Black participants, men and older adults with a school education.

“I definitely think having a pet makes a difference,” says caregiver Lorie Martan, 60. “Anything that helps stimulate the brain is nice — plus all of the love you’re giving to that animal.”