If you are an older adult living alone and your brain is in tip-top shape, you might want to thank your dog or cat.
Adults who are 50 or older and who own at least one pet have a slower rate of decline in both verbal memory and verbal fluency compared with those who live alone, according to research recently published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open.
Researchers examined nearly 8,000 people in the UK who were at least age 50 during the studied years, between 2010 and 2019. The average age of participants was 66.
Those who participated in the study were asked to repeat 10 unrelated words as a way to test the cognitive function known as verbal memory. To test for verbal fluency, participants were asked to name as many animals as they could in one minute.
Those who lived alone and owned pets had slower rates of cognitive decline than those who lived alone and did not have pets. However, the cognitive benefits of pet ownership do not appear to extend to seniors who live with other people.
In the study, the researchers note that older adults who live alone are at high risk of developing dementia, and add that “living alone is a state that is not easily changed.” They add:
“It is worth noting that compared with pet owners living with others, pet owners living alone did not show faster rates of decline in verbal memory or verbal fluency. These findings preliminarily suggest that pet ownership might completely offset the association of living alone with faster rates of decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency among older adults.”
The researchers note that the study “has several limitations,” including the fact that the test looked at just two aspects of cognitive function.
They add that randomized clinical trials are necessary to help establish whether pet ownership actually slows cognitive decline in older adults who live alone.
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