Pet ownership could help preserve memory and thinking, study suggests

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By Quang Tran | Wednesday 23 February 2022

Today, researchers in the US report that long-term pet ownership is linked to lower levels of memory and thinking decline in those over the age of 50, compared to those who did not have a companion animal. The researchers present the findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting being held in Seattle in April.

What did the scientists do?

In the study researchers looked at US adults over the age of 50.

Over half of those with normal memory and thinking at the start of the study owned a pet. At this point, these people were more likely to have lower blood pressure but also more likely to have depression compared with non-pet owners.

They then looked to see people’s scores on an assessment of memory and thinking over a six-year period. Over six years, non-pet owners’ memory and thinking declined more than those who owned pets for longer than five years.

What our expert said:

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Humans love their animals, and pets can be an important source of companionship and comfort throughout our lives. While this US-based study linked owning a pet with some protection in memory and thinking decline, it can’t tell us if these are long-term benefits, or whether owning a pet has any bearing on dementia risk. This research has yet to be published and it’s not yet possible to unpick the reasons behind the link the researchers have observed.

“It might seem hard to know where to start but giving back to your brain doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s about small, positive changes that you enjoy and can build upon. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can visit Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Think Brain Health hub at www.thinkbrainhealth.org.uk

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Quang Tran