Pets help keep your brain alert, study finds

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(CNN) Having a pet long-term can delay memory loss and other types of cognitive decline, according to a new study. According to preliminary research, pet ownership was particularly beneficial for verbal memory work, such as memorizing lists of words.

“To our knowledge, our study is the first to consider the effect of duration of pet ownership on cognitive health,” Jennifer Applebaum, a doctoral student in sociology and predoctoral fellow at the National Institute, told CNN of Health from the University of Florida. .

And it’s not just cats and dogs that can stimulate the brain. People in the study also cared for rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish and reptiles, Applebaum said, although “dogs were the most common, followed by cats.”

Owning pets for five years or more produced the greatest benefit, delaying cognitive decline by 1.2 points over the six-year study period compared to the rate of decline among people without pets, said the Dr. Tiffany Braley, clinical neuroimmunologist and associate professor. of Neurology at the University of Michigan, via email.

“These findings provide preliminary evidence suggesting that long-term pet ownership may protect against cognitive decline,” said Braley, lead author of the study that will be presented in April at the 74th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Why has having a pet for over five years had the most positive impact? The study, which could only show an association, not direct cause and effect, between pet ownership and cognition, was unable to answer this question.

However, previous studies have highlighted the negative effects of stress on brain health, particularly chronic stress, Braley said.



Social companionship is just one of the many benefits that pets bring to our lives.

“Previous research has also identified associations between interactions with pets and physiological measures of stress reduction, including reductions in cortisol levels and blood pressure, which in the long term could impact on cognitive health,” she said.

Experts say pet ownership can also provide a host of other brain benefits, such as social companionship and a sense of duty and purpose.

“Having one or more pets combines many essential elements of a brain-healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention Clinic at the Center for Brain Health. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University.

“Cognitive engagement, socialization, physical activity and having a purpose can separately, or even more in combination, address key modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline and disease-related dementia Alzheimer’s disease,” said Isaacson, who was not involved in the study.

Working memory

The study analyzed cognitive data from more than 1,300 adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Studya nationally representative study that tracks the lives of Americans ages 50 and older.

Anyone with cognitive decline at the start of the research was excluded from the analysis. In the final sample, more than 53% owned pets. Pet owners tend to have higher socioeconomic status, which could also explain these benefits: Experts say people with higher incomes are more likely to see a doctor and take care of their health .

Any brain boost associated with pet ownership over a five-year period was “greater among black adults, college-educated adults, and men,” the study found.

“More research is needed to explain these results,” Applebaum said. Because previous research primarily focused on biased samples of mostly white women, “we lack sufficient information on men (and other genders) AND people of color, particularly black pet owners,” a she declared.

Does this mean you should run out and get a pet if you’re an elderly person wanting to preserve your brain? Not necessarily, experts say. Studies also showed that pet owners can be lonely, depressed, and suffer from chronic illnesses that can make pet ownership negative.

“We do not recommend pet ownership as a therapeutic intervention,” Applebaum said. “However, we recommend that pet owners be supported in keeping them through public policy and community partnerships.”

Eliminating pet fees on rental housing and providing free or low-cost veterinary services would go a long way toward helping pet owners keep their pets, “particularly in low-income communities and communities of color,” Applebaum said.

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

“Unwanted separation from a pet can be devastating to a related owner, and marginalized populations are most at risk of these unwanted consequences,” she said.


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