Pet Companionship: A Potential Shield Against Cognitive Decline in Aging Adults

“Paws for Thought: How Pet Companionship Defies Cognitive Decline in Older Adults”

According to a new study, keeping dogs can help elderly people who live alone. Having a pet may prevent cognitive impairment.

A recent study suggests that having a pet may help older people who live alone delay the onset of cognitive deterioration. Pet ownership, according to the researchers, “completely offsets the associations between declining rates in verbal memory, verbal fluency, and composite verbal cognition and living alone.”

Pet ownership was linked to slower rates of decrease in those verbal regions among single persons but had no effect on those who lived with other people, according to research including 7,984 adults 50 and older (average age, 66). The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing in the United Kingdom included the participants. JAMA Network Open released the research results from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China.

The researchers point out that other components of cognition, such as episodic memory, executive function, attention, reasoning, processing speed, and accuracy, among other things, were not examined; instead, they focused solely on verbal cognitive performance. “A thorough cognitive function evaluation is required to investigate the relationship between pet ownership and overall cognitive decline,” they stated.

Over the course of the nine years they looked at health data, they only inquired about pet ownership once, thus suggesting that the results may have been explained by something they weren’t looking at.

According to WebMD, cognitive decline, which includes memory and reasoning issues, happens to everyone as they age. “Mild cognitive impairment, a more advanced form of decline that can be a precursor to dementia, is thought to affect 10% to 20% of people over 65.”

According to CNN, research has shown that living alone can lead to higher levels of anxiety and despair, particularly if it happens after a spouse passes away, gets divorced, or is separated. Living alone raised the likelihood of depression by 42% when compared to living with others, according to a 2022 research. Scientists have shown that depression can also double the chance of dementia; in 2020, a panel identified late-life depression as one of the 12 main risk factors for dementia.

According to USA Today, Dr. Thomas Wisnieski, head of NYU Langone Health’s Division of Cognitive Neurology, the study adds to the body of research showing that lowering stress, loneliness, and isolation can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Dr. Leah Croll, assistant professor of neurology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, told ABC News that “research indicates that having long-term, high-quality relationships, whether that’s with family, friends, or romantic relationships, is not only important for happiness but for promoting good brain health and reducing the risk for dementia.”

“An alternative option for people whose social circumstances don’t allow them to have frequent interactions with other people,” she noted, may be found in owning pets.

Although this study is the first to examine the effects of pet ownership on cognition and to compare the experiences of single and shared-living individuals, it is not the first to propose that pet ownership benefits older people’s cognitive abilities. The American Academy of Neurology revealed the results of research at its annual conference in a press release that was released in February 2022.

According to a preliminary study, “owning a pet, like a dog or cat, especially for five years or longer, may be linked to slower cognitive decline in older adults.” Long-term pet ownership may slow down cognitive decline in older adults, according to research from the University of Michigan Medical Center and the University of Florida. The study used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative look at American adults 50 and older with normal cognition at the beginning of the study.

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