Pets are true allies to our health, mentally or physically. Especially for seniors. Researchers at the American Academy of Neurology say that owning a pet may promote slower cognitive decline in older adults.
The scientists examined the cognitive data of nearly 1,400 Americans over the age of 50. The majority of them (53%) had a pet at the time of the survey and a third had had a pet for more than five years. Their cognitive data came from the “Health and Retirement Study,” a longitudinal survey the University of Chicago conducts every two years on a sample of more than 26,000 Americans over the age of 50. After several tests, each participant was assigned a cognitive score.
Researchers at the American Academy of Neurology compared this information to the number of years a pet has owned. They found that the presence of one of these hairballs has a real impact on the intellectual abilities of seniors. Cognitive scores for pet owners tended to decline more slowly than for participants who did not have a dog, cat, rabbit, or bird in their lives.
This beneficial effect is especially noticeable in people who have had a pet for years. “Since stress can negatively affect cognitive function, a pet’s potential anti-stress effects may be a plausible reason for our results”said Tiffany Braley, a member of the American Academy of Neurology and author of the study. “A pet can also increase physical activity, which can benefit cognitive health. That said, further research is needed to confirm our findings and identify the mechanisms underlying this correlation.”
Multiple benefits for kids and adults
For years, the scientific community has recognized that the presence of a pet has real health benefits for their owners. For example, several studies have shown that owning a dog is associated with lower mortality from cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack. This phenomenon is all the more striking among single people: they have a 33% lower risk of dying and an 11% lower risk of a heart attack compared to a single person who does not own a dog, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
A few years ago, researchers at the University of Saint Andrews also found that people in their 60s who own a dog don’t look old. Their physical shape is similar to that of a person 10 years younger, thanks to the physical exertion they put in with their four-legged companion.
Adults aren’t the only ones to take advantage of the many benefits of pets. In particular, they help strengthen the immune system of toddlers. Asthma, hay fever or eczema are thus less common in children exposed to a pet in the early years of life, according to a Swedish study published in 2018 in the journal PLOS One.
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