Study finds that older people who take care of pets have slower cognitive decline

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan in the United States showed that the benefits of owning a pet go beyond reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. The human-animal relationship also plays an important role in protecting the cognitive ability of the elderly.

The scientists analyzed data from 1,369 people with an average age of 65 enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal US survey. The participants had normal cognitive abilities at the start of the research. In all, 53% reported having pets, and 32% had been pet owners for five years or more.

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With the help of cognitive tests — memory exercises with words, subtraction, and numerical counting — the scientists assigned a score to each participant, ranging from zero to 27. The score was used to correlate cognitive function with the time the participants cared for their pets.

Over a six-year period, the cognitive function of elderly people with pets was observed to decline at a slower pace compared to those without pets. Those who took care of the animals for the longest benefited, receiving a score of up to 1.2 higher than the others.

A companion animal can increase physical activity, which may benefit cognitive health. However, more research is needed to confirm our findings and identify the mechanisms behind this association,” study author Tiffany Braley, a researcher at the University of Michigan Medical Center, said in the paper.

The study data still needs peer review for publication in a scientific journal. It will be presented in April at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

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