Study Says Pets May Protect Your Brain’s Cognitive Processing as You Age

Having Pets May Protect Your Brain’s Cognitive Processing as You Age

Photo: HALFPOINT/Depositphotos

Their purrs, licks, neighs, and other silly antics make pets a central part of our human lives. The benefits of companionship and cuteness are obvious, but scientists are increasingly discovering hidden health perks of pet ownership. Dog owners see heart benefits, while pups and cats reduce the stress hormone cortisol. A new study from researchers at the University of Michigan, published in the Journal of Aging and Health, details another positive correlation between pet ownership and health. In this study, better cognition in adults over 65 was linked to extended pet ownership.

The study analyzed data from over 20,00 adults over 50 years old. Over the six years from 2010 to 2016, each participant answered certain questions about their pets. Cognitive scores were also collected at multiple points over the time period, testing short and long-term memory of words. For those over 65, individuals who reported owning a pet for more than five years consistently scored better than their pet-less peers. This effect remained as the individuals aged. While not necessarily causation, it suggests once more a relationship between furry friends and health. In this case, we may think better as we age thanks to Fido.

Why might pet ownership improve brain health? It could be the gut-brain connection, connected through the enteric nervous system in the gut which sends signals to the brain. The diversity of bacteria pets bring into the house may boost our guts. The “pet effect” may also be due to an increase in activity among pet owners, such as walking a dog or playing with a cat. Movement is good for the brain.

Maybe it's due to the chats we have with our four-legged friends which exercise our verbal neural networks. The positive effect pets produce on mental and emotional health could also suggest that they alleviate loneliness and protect brain function. While some studies have not found dogs and cats to positively boost cognition, the researchers at the University of Michigan suggest past studies focused on short-term interactions with animals rather than extended companionship. No matter the mechanism, pet ownership is increasingly recognized as beneficial—something animal lovers knew all along.

A study finds that having pets can help preserve cognitive processing ability as one ages, what researchers call a “pet effect.”

Having Pets May Protect Your Brain’s Cognitive Processing as You Age

Photo: BUDABAR/Depositphotos

h/t: [Science Alert]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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