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Can Caring for a Pet Protect the Aging Brain?

0 2 years ago

In a large study of Medicare beneficiaries, pet owners had slower cognitive decline over 6 years than their peers who did not care for a pet.

“Previous research has studied the impact of pets on overall health, mood, and quality of life; but to our knowledge, our study is the first to consider the effect of duration of pet ownership on cognitive health in older adults age 65 and older,” lead author Jennifer W. Applebaum, sociology PhD candidate and NIH predoctoral fellow at University of Florida, Gainesville, told Medscape Medical News.

Although the study could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, the findings do provide early evidence suggesting that long-term pet ownership may protect against cognitive decline, added senior author Tiffany J. Braley, MD, associate professor of neurology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

This is “a necessary step to understanding how relationships with companion animals may contribute to brain health,” Braley said.

The findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) 2022 Annual Meeting in April.

Benefits to Long-Term Ownership

The researchers examined associations between pet ownership and long-term cognitive outcomes among 1369 adults participating in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative cohort of US adults age 50 and older.


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