It’s no secret that our pets can make us happier and fitter. But could they also be keeping our brains healthier too? A new study conducted by researchers in America looked at pet ownership in old age. The results have revealed that having a pet as you grow older may help to slow cognitive decline. The findings showed that adults aged over 65, who owned a pet for five years or more, scored better on memory tests.
“Sustained pet ownership was associated with higher immediate and delayed word recall scores,” researchers from the University of Michigan wrote in the report.
They took the data from a nationally representative study of 1,300 adults which took place in 2015-2016. It recorded the cognitive abilities of participants with an average age of 65 over a six year period. The study involved annual tests which featured a range of maths and English problems. The participants received a cognitive score between 0-27 every year.
Not only did the scores decrease more slowly in pet owners in general, but those who had owned a pet for more than 5 years had a cognitive score an entire 1.2 points higher than those without pets at the end of the six years. The scores also revealed a greater benefit for specific demographic groups too. Men, Black participants and those with college educations benefitted more highly from pet ownership.
These findings are important because it may help scientists to mitigate conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia, which typically affect people of an older age. They hope that more studies in the future will look for a causal link between memory decline and pet ownership.
Published in the Journal of Aging and Health, the researchers suggested that oxytocin may be to thank for these positive mental effects. Also known as the “love hormone”, oxytocin has been previously been shown to improve social cognition and memory. Scientists also noted a lower incidence of physical ailments. They found that pet owners aged 65 and over had fewer cases of hypertension and diabetes.
The researchers said:
“Beyond the physiological responses discussed above, pets could provide social support and thus promote cognitive health via psychological wellbeing.”
So now could be the perfect time to convince Grandma & Grandpa to adopt a new four-legged friend!
Sat May 20 2023