Pets Can Help Delay Memory Loss

 

Pets can boost your brain power, study says


Having a long-term pet companion may delay memory loss and other kinds of cognitive decline, a new study has found. Pet ownership was especially beneficial for working verbal memory, such as memorization of word lists, according to the preliminary research.


It's not just cats and dogs that can boost the brain. People in the study also cared for rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish and reptiles.

Owning household pets for five years or more produced the most benefit, delaying cognitive decline by 1.2 points over the six-year period of the study compared with the rate of decline in people without pets.

These findings provide early evidence to suggest that long-term pet ownership could be protective against cognitive decline.

Prior research has identified associations between interactions with companion animals and physiological measures of stress reduction, including reductions in cortisol levels and blood pressure, which in the long term could have an impact on cognitive health.

There can also be a multitude of other brain benefits from pet ownership, such as social companionship and a sense of duty and purpose.

Having a pet or multiple pets combines many core components of a brain-healthy lifestyle.

Cognitive engagement, socialization, physical activity and having a sense of purpose can separately, or even more so in combination, address key modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease dementia.

Anyone with cognitive decline at the start of the research was excluded from the analysis. In the final sample, over 53% owned pets. Pet owners tended to be of higher socioeconomic status, which could also be a reason for the benefits. Experts say people with more income are more likely to visit doctors and take care of their health.

This doesn’t mean that you should go out and get a pet. Studies have also shown that pet owners can be lonely, depressed and have chronic conditions that may make pet ownership a negative.

Abolishing pet fees on rental housing and providing free or low-cost vet services would go a long way toward helping pet owners keep their pets particularly in low-income communities and communities of color.

Other ideas include providing foster or boarding support for people who are unexpectedly unavailable to care for their pets due to a health crisis.

An unwanted separation from a pet can be devastating for a bonded owner, and marginalized populations are most at-risk of these unwanted outcomes.

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