Owning a pet slows the rate of cognitive decline in older consumers, study finds

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The bond consumers have with their pets can produce brain health benefits

While recent studies have shown how owning a pet has benefited consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study has explored the brain health boost pets can bring at any time. 

According to researchers from the American Academy of Neurology, owning a pet, especially for five or more years, may slow the rate of cognitive decline in older consumers. 

“Prior studies have suggested that the human-animal bond may have health benefits like decreasing blood pressure and stress,” said researcher Dr. Tiffany Braley. “Our results suggest that pet ownership may also be protective against cognitive decline.” 

Pets keep owners’ brains sharp

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,400 older adults enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study. Over the course of six years, participants took several cognitive tests that evaluated their word recall, numerical counting, and subtraction, among other cognitive skills. 

Of the participants involved in the study, 53% were pet owners and 32% were long-term pet owners. Overall, pet owners’ cognition declined at a slower rate than non-pet owners. Those who had had their pets for five years or more performed even better on the cognitive assessments, scoring 1.2 points higher than non-pet owners at the end of the study. 

While the researchers accounted for several factors that could impact cognition, they also evaluated how certain demographic factors came into play. They learned that the link between pet ownership and cognitive function was strongest for men, Black adults, and those with college degrees. 

The researchers explained that more work is needed to better understand why pet ownership has such an impact on cognitive function. However, the findings highlight important information for older consumers who also have a furry friend at home. 

“As stress can negatively affect cognitive function, the potential stress-buffering effects of pet ownership could provide a plausible reason for our findings,” Dr. Braley said. “A companion animal can also increase physical activity, which could benefit cognitive health. That said, more research is needed to confirm our results and identify underlying mechanisms for this association.” 

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