A new study finds that for older adults living alone, owning a pet is associated with a slower rate of decline in some aspects of cognition and the link between living alone, a recognized risk factor for dementia, and cognitive decline. can completely eliminate
The number of people living alone has increased over the past few decades. In 2021, it was 28.5 percent. USin 29.4% United Kingdom and in 25.6% Australia. Oh A recent meta-analysis It found that, for older adults, social isolation is a significant risk factor for dementia and is associated with a higher population risk of physical inactivity, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. One thing that reduces social isolation is pet ownership.
There is limited – and controversial – evidence about the link between pet ownership and rates of cognitive decline. Some say it improves aspects of cognitive function. Others say it is not. A new study by researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in China investigated whether pet ownership is associated with cognitive decline in older adults living alone and whether it moderates this decline.
The researchers obtained data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), an ongoing, prospective, and nationally representative cohort of community-dwelling UK adults aged 50 and over. In the fifth wave of the study, participants were asked, “Do you keep any domestic pets inside your house/flat?” And the researchers looked at data from 7,945 participants with an average age of 66.3. 56 percent were women. Information on cognitive function was obtained from subsequent waves of the study, with researchers looking specifically at verbal memory and verbal fluency.
Verbal memory is the ability to remember written or spoken information that was previously learned through conversation, dialogue, or written work. It is part of episodic memory, the memory of events or personal experiences used to enable a person to identify when and where an event occurred. Verbal fluency is the ease with which people can produce words, an indicator of memory retrieval and executive function of the brain.
After adjusting for potential covariates, the researchers found that compared to non-pet owners, pet owners had lower rates of decline in verbal memory and fluency. In contrast to older adults living with others, those living alone showed faster declines in these two factors, as did non-pet owners living alone compared to pet owners living with other people.
“Older adults living alone are at increased risk of developing dementia, and living alone is a condition that is not easily reversed,” the researchers said. “It is worth noting that compared to pet owners who lived with others, pet owners who lived alone did not show faster rates of decline in verbal memory or verbal fluency. These findings suggest early that pet ownership may completely moderate the association of living alone with faster declines in verbal memory and verbal fluency in older adults.
The researchers note some limitations of the study. First, it only considers verbal memory and verbal fluency, which represent episodic memory and executive function, respectively, while cognitive function includes many other dimensions, such as attention, reasoning, and processing speed and correction. Second, there was no information on duration of pet ownership in the ELSA, and third, almost all of the study participants were white, making the results generalizable to other racial and ethnic groups.
And because this was an observational study, the effects of unobserved confounding factors, such as the APOE gene, which affects Alzheimer’s disease risk, cannot be ruled out in determining a functional association. There is an obstacle.
Further studies including a comprehensive cognitive function assessment are needed to explore the association between pet ownership and global cognitive decline among those living alone.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Network.