Owning a cat or dog slows down the process of brain deterioration in elderly people. For cats, the simple act of companionship which substantially prevents the cat owner becoming lonely, is their major contribution to preventing cognitive deterioration in humans because loneliness is associated with steep declines in cognitive function. Cats also reduce stress and help with relaxation all of which protects against cognitive deterioration.
As for dogs, you get the same benefits in terms of a reduction in loneliness and you have the added bonus of going for a walk with your dog which further slows down cognitive decline by keeping you young and healthy.
Simply walking in a park with a friend or it might be a dog or even a cat on a lead is known to help keep the brain alert and alive. Personally, I feel that being diligent about “connecting with nature” is very important to one’s well-being particularly in old age. It’s very calming, it’s very natural and very healthy. It improves well-being and in improving well-being I think this prevents cognitive decline.
A study looked at these benefits in America where they surveyed 637 people aged between 50 and 100 of whom 185 were pet owners. All the participants were regarded as healthy and they were tracked for 13 years on average. They were given cognitive tests at regular intervals.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports and it found that all the participants experienced some amount of mental decline but “deterioration in cognitive function with age was slower for pet-owners than non-owners.”
And it found the same benefits for both dogs and cats but those with dog companions, as mentioned, the decline was even slower.
The researchers worked out of the University of Maryland and concluded:
“We provide important longitudinal evidence that pet ownership and dog walking contribute to maintaining cognitive function with ageing. [And that there] is a need to support pet ownership and dog walking in [the] design of senior communities and services.”
There are pet friendly retirement homes. It would seem that the recommendation is to choose one where pets are allowed.
The researchers claim that their study is important because there’s been little research focusing on deterioration in cognitive function in older people. Most of the research has been conducted on physical health.
The study concluded:
“Older adult pet-owners experienced less decline in cognitive function as they aged, after considering both their pre-existing health and age. Memory, executive function, language function, psychomotor speed and processing speed deteriorated less over 10 years among pet-owners than among non-owners. Cat-owners experienced less deterioration in memory and language function. Dog-walking also was associated with slower deterioration in cognitive function. Explanations for the effects reported include decreased stress, increased relaxation [and] affiliation, increasing external focus for attention and inhibition of irrelevant thoughts.”
Owning a dog keeps you young and walking them even more so.
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