Living with pets can prevent age-related cognitive decline.

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So, you are getting older and are probably beginning to worry about the possibility of declining cognitive and mental abilities, which seem to be an inevitable consequence of aging. According to a recently published scientific report, you can avoid such cognitive decline simply by getting a dog or cat as a household companion.

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Aging and declining mental capacity

Aging affects us all physically and mentally. It is well established that our cognitive abilities decline as we age. memory is not as intense, and our verbal fluency and general mental processing abilities decline. Not only is this important as a personal impact on our individual lives, but, as people are living longer, it is becoming somewhat of a global crisis. It is estimated that, globally, the number of people affected Dementia Between 1990 and 2016 there has been a 117% increase, mainly due to our aging population.

Unfortunately, none are effective Therapy Currently available to successfully reverse cognitive decline or treat dementia. However, we are beginning to understand how certain lifestyle and social factors are associated with, and interact with, these age-related effects. One of these factors is Loneliness.

The element of isolation

The proportion of people living alone has been increasing over the past few decades. By 2021, the proportion of single-person households in the UK had risen to 29.4%, and in the United States the proportion was 28.5%.

Some recent analyzes have shown that older adults who live alone have a higher risk of developing dementia, although the reason for this association between cognitive decline and loneliness is unknown.

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Some other studies confirm that pet ownership (especially dogs and cats) significantly reduces feelings of loneliness in individuals. So, does it make sense to connect these two findings and suggest that, perhaps because it reduces loneliness, pet ownership may also reduce age-related cognitive decline?

The ELSA Project

To test the hypothesis that pet ownership may be related to cognitive status in later life, you need a large sample of older adults who have had their cognitive abilities tested over several years and whose Living status (whether alone or with others, and with. or without Pets) I know. Fortunately, there is an ongoing project known as the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), an ongoing study designed to measure the status of people living in private households in England. It is a collaborative project run by three universities (University College London, University of Manchester, and University of East Anglia). Since its data collection began in 1998, it has measured more than 19,000 study participants age 50 and older.

The methodology involves examining these older adults every two years using questionnaires and nurse interviews. The nurse’s interview includes measuring physical functions and collecting blood samples. The ongoing test group requires the addition of new participants as those already enrolled in the study become unavailable due to death or other factors.

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Most importantly for our concerns, in 2010, some cognitive functioning tests were added to the nurses’ interviews, and a question about pet ownership was added to the general questionnaire.

For scientists, the most wonderful aspect of this project is that ELSA has made its data available to other researchers globally. This has resulted in more than 1,300 scientific publications by investigators worldwide using this resource.

Loneliness, pets, and cognitive status

Our current interest is in a recent publication by a group of researchers led by Yanzi Li in the Department of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China. These scientists decided to see if pet ownership had any effect on the cognitive status of older adults. They selected a sample of individuals tested from 2010 to 2011 and compared it to a sample whose results were collected from 2018 to 2019. This gave them 7,945 people aged 50 and over who participated in both data collections.

Two measures of cognitive ability were available. The first was a verbal memory task with two components: immediate and delayed recall of a list of unrelated words and a verbal fluency task that required individuals to list as many animal names as possible within one minute. There was a need. A comprehensive verbal. Perception The score is simply the sum of all these measures.

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First, analysis of this data confirmed that individuals who live alone show greater deterioration in their mental abilities. Individuals living alone (without pets) showed greater declines in verbal memory and verbal fluency than those living with other household members.

When we look at the effects of pet ownership, the results are quite startling. For individuals who are living alone, if they have a pet, the expected decline in their cognitive abilities is significantly slowed. In fact, their scores look like those of people who are living with other people at home. Individuals living in households with more than one person do not show a significant benefit of pet ownership, presumably because it reduces their sense of loneliness before living with other people, and it seems There is no need to add pets.

This seems to suggest an interesting conclusion. Older adults living alone are at higher risk for dementia and other forms of cognitive decline. Unfortunately, being alone is a condition that is not easily reversed. However, a simple and relatively inexpensive buffer against cognitive decline may be the addition of a pet dog or cat to the household.

How good is the effect? The report’s authors claim that “these findings preliminarily suggest that pet ownership may moderate the association of living alone with faster declines in verbal memory and verbal fluency in older adults.” “

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.


Yanzhi Li, Wanxin Wang, Liwan Zhu, Liwen Yang, Herui Wu, Xiaojuan Zhang, Lan Guo, Ciyong Lu (2023). Pet ownership, living alone, and cognitive decline in adults aged 50 years or older. JAMA Network Open..6(12):e2349241. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.49241

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