According to a new study, having a pet can help you stay sharper as you agehere's how.
If you have a pet, you undoubtedly already understand the importance of spending more time cuddling with them.
However, if you're still on the fence, new scientific evidence suggests that long-term pet ownership may be beneficial to your brain, even slowing cognitive decline in older folks.
Researchers from the University of Michigan published a preliminary study on Wednesday that connected owning a pet for five years or more to brain aging in persons around the age of 65. The new findings are set to be presented at the 74th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Seattle in April.
Dr. Tiffany Braley of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who authored the study, noted in a press release that previous studies have revealed that the human-animal link may have health benefits like reducing blood pressure and stress. Our findings show that pet ownership may also be protective against cognitive impairment, she noted.
The researchers looked at data from a previous study that included over 1,300 older persons with an average age of 65 and normal cognitive abilities at the start of the trial. 53 percent of individuals surveyed had pets, with 32 percent characterizing themselves as long-term pet owners (those who had owned a pet for five years or more).
The researchers assessed cognitive function using assessments such as number counting, subtraction problems, and word memory tests that were given to study participants during a six-year period. Participants earned a cognitive score ranging from 0 to 27 based on their performance on those exams each year.
The University of Michigan researchers discovered that pet owners' cognitive scores declined at a slower rate than non-pet owners over a six-year period. Long-term pet owners showed a greater difference in cognitive deterioration. Long-term pet owners had a 1.2-point advantage over non-pet owners in terms of cognitive ability.
Furthermore, according to the report, the cognitive benefits of pet ownership in older individuals were found to be significantly stronger in Black participants, men, and seniors with a college education. More than 88 percent of those who took part in the study were white, while 7% were black, 2% were Hispanic, and 3% were of another ethnicity or race.
While more research is needed to corroborate the findings, Braley feels that previous studies showing pets reducing owners' stress levels could be one explanation for the findings of this study. Stress has been shown to have a deleterious impact on cognitive performance, she said, suggesting that lowering stress levels could help halt cognitive decline.
Previous research has also indicated that pet owners, particularly dog owners, are more inclined to exercise and stroll than non-pet owners. According to Braley, that extra activity could benefit both your brain and your body.
She added, A companion animal can also promote physical exercise, which may be beneficial to cognitive health.