According to a preliminary study, owning a pet such as a cat or a dog, particularly for 5 years or more, could be associated with slower cognitive decline in older individuals. Previous research has indicated that the bond between humans and animals could have health benefits such as reducing stress and blood pressure. The results of this study indicate that owning a pet could also protect against cognitive decline.
Researchers examined cognitive data from 1,369 individuals aged 65 on average with normal cognitive skills when the study started. A total of 53 percent were pet owners, and 32 percent owned pets for a long time, defined as owning pets for 5 years or longer. Of those participating in the study, 88 percent were white, 7 percent were Black, 2 percent were Hispanic and 3 percent were of another race or ethnicity.
The Health and Retirement Study data was used in which multiple cognitive tests were administered to participants. Researchers made use of the cognitive tests from that study for developing a composite cognitive score that ranged from 0 to 27 for each individual. The composite score was comprised of word recall, numeric counting, and common subtraction tests. The composite cognitive scores of the participants were then made use of to estimate the years of owning a pet and cognitive function associations.
Cognitive scores reduced at a slower rate in owners of pets over six years. This difference was strongest in those who owned pets for a longer time. Considering other known factors affecting cognitive function, the study found that long-term pet owners had a 1.2 points higher cognitive composite score at 6 years in comparison to non-pet owners on average. It was also shown that the cognitive benefits linked to owning a pet for longer were more pronounced in Black individuals, males, and college-educated individuals.
The potential effects that owning a pet have on mitigating stress could offer a possible reason for the results as cognitive function can be negatively affected by stress. Pet ownership can also help to increase physical activity, subsequently benefiting cognitive health.
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