Long-term pet ownership can help seniors maintain cognitive abilities – News

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Our furry, feathered, finned, scaled, and shelled animal friends can do more than provide us with emotional comfort.

According to a new study by researchers from the University of Florida, University of Michigan and Virginia Commonwealth University, owning a pet for more than five years can help maintain cognitive abilities as as you age.

Researchers found that adults aged 50 or older who owned any type of pet for more than five years had a slower decline in verbal memory – being able to remember words, for example. – over time compared to non-pet owners.

“We can’t show this to be causal, but it does show that pets might buffer or have a protective effect on cognition in older people and we think it has to do with some of the mechanisms related to protection against stress,” said Jennifer Applebaum, a sociology doctoral student and National Institutes of Health predoctoral fellow at the University of Florida. Applebaum is the lead author of the study.

Applebaum said the researchers do not recommend pet ownership as a therapeutic intervention. However, “an unwanted separation from a pet can be devastating to an owner and marginalized populations are most at risk of these unwanted outcomes,” she said. “We recommend that people who own pets be supported to keep them through public policies and community partnerships.”

Among the policies that could be considered are the reduction or elimination of fees for pets in rental accommodation, foster or boarding support in times of health crisis or other emergencies, and veterinary care. free or low-cost for low-income homeowners.

This is the first study to examine the impact of pet ownership over time on cognitive function among a national sample of American adults aged 50 or older. The 1,300 people studied are taking part in the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal survey that follows 20,000 adults in the United States to learn about issues related to aging.

The average age of those included was 65; 53% owned pets, of which almost a third had owned them for more than five years. Although all types of pets were included in the study, dogs were the most common, Applebaum said, followed by cats.

Over six years, cognitive scores declined more slowly in pet owners and were stronger in long-term pet owners. The effect was most pronounced for white and black adults, men, adults with college degrees, and people with incomes below $125,000. More research is needed to fully explain the findings, Applebaum said.

There are many studies on the mental and physical health benefits of owning a pet, although the results have not been conclusive. However, a positive relationship with a pet is thought to alleviate stress via emotional support, which may also promote healthy cognitive aging. Caring for a pet—walking a dog, feeding a cat—also boosts physical activity, which is linked to cognitive health.

“These findings provide early evidence to suggest that long-term pet ownership may protect against cognitive decline, providing a new and fundamental step to examine how long-lasting relationships with pets contribute to brain health. “, according to the authors.

Applebaum said it’s possible that people who owned a pet for less than five years also experienced other significant stressors or didn’t have positive experiences with their pets and didn’t therefore did not derive health benefits from these interactions.

The research team will present the preliminary study, which is currently being reviewed for publication, at the 74th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in April.

Applebaum became interested in issues around pet ownership and social inequality while working in animal shelters. She completed a master’s degree in veterinary medicine before pursuing her doctorate.

“I’m interested in the impact of social inequality on people and pets,” Applebaum said. “It led me to look more broadly at the impact of pets on health and how that plays out in a household between owners and pets.”


Brooke Adams February 25, 2022

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