Study shows pets can boost your brain power and delay memory loss and cognitive decline

Posted on March 03, 2022

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Source: CNN health
  • Having a long-term pet companion may delay memory loss and other kinds of cognitive decline, a new study has found.
  • Pet ownership was especially beneficial for working verbal memory, such as memorization of word lists, according to the preliminary research.

Owning household pets for five years or more produced the most benefit, delaying cognitive decline by 1.2 points over the six-year period of the study compared with the rate of decline in people without pets.

Why did having pets for more than five years have the most positive impact? The study, which could only show an association, not a direct cause and effect between pet ownership and cognition, was unable to answer that question. However, previous studies have pointed to the negative effects of stress on brain health, especially chronic stress.

Prior research has also identified associations between interactions with companion animals and physiological measures of stress reduction, including reductions in cortisol levels and blood pressure, which in the long term could have an impact on cognitive health.

There can also be a multitude of other brain benefits from pet ownership, such as social companionship and a sense of duty and purpose, experts say.

Cognitive engagement, socialization, physical activity and having a sense of purpose can separately, or even more so in combination, address key modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease dementia.

The study analyzed cognitive data on more than 1,300 adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study tracking the lives of Americans age 50 and older.

Anyone with cognitive decline at the start of the research was excluded from the analysis. In the final sample, over 53% owned pets. Pet owners tended to be of higher socioeconomic status, which could also be a reason for the benefits: Experts say people with more income are more likely to visit doctors and take care of their health.

Any brain boost associated with owning pets over five years was "more prominent for Black adults, college-educated adults, and men.