Adults 65 and Older Who Own Pets Score Higher on Memory Tests Than Non-Pet Owners

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, adults over the age of 65 who owned a pet for more than five years scored better on memory tests than non-pet owners. This adds to the plethora of evidence pointing to the mental and physical benefits of pet ownership already out there.

old woman with cat
Photo: Pixabay/StockSnap

The Power of the Dog

Dogs and cats are the most plentiful among household pets but pet ownership, in general, can have the same impact on our health. For this particular study, the group assessed data from a survey conducted between 2010 and 2016 of approximately 20,000 adults above the age of 50.

Published recently in the Journal of Aging and Health, the study suggested that individuals aged 65 and over who owned a pet for more than five years demonstrated higher cognitive scores than non-pet owners when tested.

“Sustained pet ownership was associated with higher immediate and delayed word recall scores,” the researchers wrote, adding that the results point to pets possibly mitigating cognitive disparities like dementia in older adults. Interestingly, the effects were only visible among pet owners aged 65 and older.

older man with dog
Photo: Pixabay/vJoenomias

The Love Hormone

While the researchers stated that the findings were only an association and that a direct causal link could not be established by this one study, further investigations to examine potential causal pathways by which pets helped mitigate memory decline would be needed. They also speculated that the “love hormone” oxytocin could be behind the positive effects seen in pet ownership by seniors.

Scientists also note that sustained or prolonged pet ownership points to indicators of greater physical activity and lower incidence of diabetes and hypertension than short-term pet ownership or those with no history of pets at all.

seniors walking dog on beach
Photo: Pixabay/trapezemike

Better Heath & Wellbeing

“Beyond the physiological responses discussed above, pets could provide social support and thus promote cognitive health via psychological wellbeing,” they stated.

Staying active, reducing the amount of television you watch, reading, doing brain puzzles, and regular exercise as well as diet are all thought to influence our physical and mental capabilities. Add to that caring for a pet, and you may just have found the equivalent of the fountain of youth during your time here on the planet.

People, Pets & Planet

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