Owning a pet will protect the brain from the effects of aging

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Dog is man’s best friend. This maxim now takes on a new aspect in the light of recent discoveries about domestic animals. In addition to the physical benefits they provide to their owners, especially in terms of blood pressure and daily activities, they would also benefit our brains. Long-term pet ownership can delay memory loss and other cognitive declines, researchers say.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 50 million people with dementia in the world, and about 10 million new cases occur every year. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and is thought to account for 60-70% of cases. Moreover, more than one million people in France suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and 225,000 new cases occur every year. Dementia is one of the leading causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide.

Research is increasing to find a treatment to slow the process of cognitive decline, but so far there has not been much success. Early diagnosis, however, is an effective tool in combating rapid decline. Indeed, nearly one-third of dementia cases are attributable to modifiable causes, including physical inactivity, isolation, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, depression, anxiety, and chronic stress.

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Efforts to support lifestyle habits that reduce the development or severity of these conditions have the potential to preserve cognitive health in older adults. Pet ownership represents an important but understudied aspect of the lifestyle and social environment of older adults and may influence cognitive health.

In this context, American researchers have demonstrated the mental and psychological health benefits of owning a pet. Their work is published in the journal Journal of Aging and HealthAfter presentation at the 74th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in April 2022.

Fundamental research on pet and human health

This is the first study to examine the effects of pet ownership on cognitive function. Researchers analyzed a sample of 1,300 American adults aged 50 or older who were followed for 6 years. They come from another survey of 20,000 American adults followed between 2010 and 2016 as part of the Health and Retirement Study.

The mean age of those included was 65, and anyone with cognitive impairment at the start of the study was excluded from the analysis. 53% owned pets, almost a third for more than five years. Although the study included all types of pets – rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish and reptiles – dogs were the most affected, followed by cats.

Over six years, cognitive scores declined more slowly in pet owners and were higher in long-term pet owners. Specifically, the researchers found that adults aged 50 or older who had owned any pet for more than 5 years had slower declines in verbal memory – recalling words from a list – than those without pets.

Weighted mean cognitive score by duration of pet ownership from 2010 to 2016, highest for people younger than 65; Lower for those over 65. © 2022 J. Applebaum et al

Jennifer Applebaum, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Florida and a predoctoral researcher at the National Institutes of Health and lead author of the study, said in a statement: We cannot demonstrate a causal relationship, but it does suggest that pets may limit or have a protective effect on cognition in older adults. We think this is related to some mechanisms related to stress protection. “.

Does owning a pet guarantee healthy aging?

It should be noted that there are numerous studies on the mental and physical health benefits of owning a pet, although the results are not conclusive. However, the scientific community believes that a positive relationship with a pet reduces stress through emotional support, which may promote healthy cognitive aging. Caring for a pet—walking the dog, feeding the cat—also increases physical activity, which is directly related to cognitive health.

According to the authors, these results provide early evidence that long-term pet ownership may protect against cognitive decline. presents a new and fundamental step in investigating how long-term relationships with pets contribute to brain health “.

However, more research is needed to understand the true implications of these findings, as other factors may also contribute. Indeed, research has shown that pet owners tend to have higher socioeconomic status, which may explain the benefits of pet ownership. So, experts claim that people with more income go to the doctor and take care of their health.

Simple tips to implement

Applebaum explains that researchers do not recommend pet ownership as a therapeutic intervention. However, he adds: Unwanted separation from a pet can be devastating to the owner, and marginal populations are at risk of these unwanted consequences. “.

He clarifies: We recommend that people with pets be supported to keep them through public policies and community partnerships “. Among policies that could be considered: reducing or eliminating pet fees in rental homes, foster or boarding support during health crises or other emergencies, and free or low-cost veterinary care for low-income owners.

Source: Journal of Aging and Health

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