Cats and Dogs May Protect Owners From Memory Loss in Later Life, Study Finds

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Owning a pet, like a dog or cat, especially for five years or longer, may be linked to slower cognitive decline in older adults, according to a preliminary study.

“Prior studies have suggested that the human-animal bond may have health benefits like decreasing blood pressure and stress,” said study author Tiffany Braley of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. “Our results suggest pet ownership may also be protective against cognitive decline.”

The study looked at cognitive data from 1,369 older adults with an average age of 65 who had normal cognitive skills at the start of the study.

A total of 53% owned pets, and 32% were long-term pet owners, defined as those who owned pets for five years or more. Of study participants, 88% were white, 7% were Black, 2% were Hispanic, and 3% were of another ethnicity or race.

Researchers used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a large study of Medicare beneficiaries. In that study, people were given multiple cognitive tests. Researchers used those cognitive tests to develop a composite cognitive score for each person, ranging from zero to 27. The composite score included common tests of subtraction, numeric counting, and word recall.

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