Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Pets Help to Protect Your Brain as You Get Older

7:02 PM | , ,


The recent correlation between pet ownership and improved cognitive health in adults above 50, found in a study by the University of Michigan, has stirred interest in the scientific community. This research indicates that maintaining a pet for over five years may significantly enhance memory performance, particularly in individuals over 65. This age group is generally susceptible to dementia onset. 

The study employed data from a comprehensive survey conducted from 2010 to 2016, involving over 20,000 adults aged 50 and above. Participants were evaluated on their cognitive abilities over this period, and the pet owners consistently exhibited superior performance, even as they aged. 

While these findings only suggest an association rather than a definitive 'pet effect,' they open up intriguing possibilities. For instance, individuals with better cognitive abilities may be more inclined to sustain long-term pet companionships. 

The study aligns with numerous recent findings indicating the health benefits of pet ownership. Theories range from increased physical activity due to pet care responsibilities, exposure to new bacteria enhancing gut health, to the alleviation of loneliness and chronic stress through pet companionship. 

As old age amplifies the risk of isolation, which can materially alter the structure and function of our brains, pet companionship can be incredibly beneficial. Physical inactivity, isolation, cardiovascular disease, depression/anxiety, and chronic stress are all recognized as common risk factors for dementia, and it appears that pet ownership might help mitigate some of these factors.

In short, having a pet could help protect numerous different avenues to cognitive decline all at once. But while most studies on pet ownership have focused on how dogs or cats impact our emotions and physical health, far fewer studies have looked at how pets impact our ability to think.

Some of those studies turned up null results. But the researchers at Michigan think that's because there's a lag in how long it takes a pet to impact our brains, and most previous studies have used short interactions with unknown dogs to test the effect.

And, as we all know, loneliness isn't conquered in a day. Nor is friendship built in a single petting session.

People shape their days around their pets, and these animal companions can impact just about every aspect of our lives.

Having someone to talk to throughout the day, even if they aren't a fellow human, could be exercising the verbal networks in our brains.

Pets could be keeping us young and fit on the inside as well as the outside.

The study was published in the Journal of Aging and Health.

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