by Sandee LaMotte
Having a long-term pet companion may delay memory loss and other kinds of cognitive decline, a new study has found. Pet ownership was especially beneficial for working verbal memory, such as memorization of word lists, according to the preliminary research.
“To our knowledge, our study is the first to consider the effect of duration of pet ownership on cognitive health,” first author Jennifer Applebaum, a sociology doctoral candidate and National Institute of Health predoctoral fellow at University of Florida, told CNN in an email.
And it’s not just cats and dogs that can boost the brain. People in the study also cared for rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish and reptiles, Applebaum said, although “dogs were most prevalent, followed by cats.”
Owning household pets for five years or more produced the most benefit, delaying cognitive decline by 1.2 points over the six-year period of the study compared with the rate of decline in people without pets, said clinical neuroimmunologist Dr. Tiffany Braley, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan, via email.
“These findings provide early evidence to suggest that long-term pet ownership could be protective against cognitive decline,” said Braley, senior author of the study to be presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting.
Why did having pets for more than five years have the most positive impact? The study, which could only show an association, not a direct cause and effect between pet ownership and cognition, was unable to answer that question.
However, previous studies have pointed to the negative effects of stress on brain health, especially chronic stress, Braley said.
“Prior research has also identified associations between interactions with companion animals and physiological measures of stress reduction, including reductions in cortisol levels and blood pressure, which in the long term could have an impact on cognitive health,” she said.
by Sandee LaMotte