Owning A Pet Slows Cognitive Decline And Dogs May Be Better Than Cats

A recent study has suggested that older adults that live alone experience a lower rate of cognitive decline, particularly if they own a dog.

Cognitive decline is becoming more of a public health concern as the number of people who have dementia or alzheimer's is expected to triple by 2050 due to our aging population.

Whilst there are a few things that can help stave off these issues such as physical activity and keeping a healthy diet the recent study from JAMA Neurology suggests that owning a pet could have a positive impact.

The study used data from a little under 8000 participants who were aged 50 and up. The rates of cognitive decline was shown to be lower among pet owners and this was most pronounced with pet owners that live alone. [1]

Pet ownership showed a lower rate of decline in verbal memory and fluency. Although there was no difference in these metrics when compared to those living with others.

Dog Ownership Staves Off Dementia

The interesting fact is that this comes off the back of another recent study that was published in October 2023 conducted in Japan on more than 11000 participants. This was regardless of living alone. [2]

And it makes quite a lot of sense when we consider what we know about both dog ownership and dementia. People who have dogs are more likely to go outside and socialise with other dog owners. And considering that lack of interaction with other people increases the risk it’s not a surprise.

Dog owners who regularly exercise their dogs regularly have an even lower risk.

Pets Aren’t a Substitute for People

Whilst pets are better than no social interaction it is well accepted that loneliness in a key risk factor for the development of dementia. [3] Of course, talking to your dog and taking it for walks prevents some of the most extreme cases of social isolation, but it should not be seen as a substitute for human contact. This is evidenced by the fact that dog owners that go outside with their dog regularly see greater benefits and the fact that cat owners receive only a marginally reduced risk as compared to their counterparts.


1 - https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2813138

2 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10583170/

3 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10357115/

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