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Need Another Reason to Adopt a Pet? Long-Term Pet Owners May Have Slower Cognitive Decline

Black woman sitting on bench holder her small dog

Beyond pure cuteness, we already know that there are many life-enhancing reasons to get a pet — from better sleep for you and your kids to a potential boost in social status. Now, according to a soon-to-be-published study from the University of Michigan, we may also be able to thank our pets for potentially slowing cognitive decline as we age.

See also: Dogs can recognize multiple languages and nonsense words: study.

Could owning a pet help slow cognitive decline?

The study, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting in April 2022, followed the cognitive data of 1,369 older adults (with an average age of 65 years). 

Over a six-year period, the researchers found that cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate in pet owners. Specifically, according to a press release for the study, the research showed that long-term pet owners (those who owned pets for five years or more) had an average cognitive composite score that was 1.2 points higher compared to non-pet owners at the end of the six-year period. While these results may be correlative, they do suggest some interesting potential benefits to pet ownership, particularly as we get older.

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

Related: 3 adorable DIY dog outfit ideas to make for your pup.

The potential “pet effect” on cognition for long-term pet owners

These findings add to existing correlative notions of an apparent “pet effect” — AKA the benefits to our health and wellbeing that may come from owning a pet. 

As explored in Psychology Today, the study’s findings (and, on a larger scale, the “pet effect” on a whole) could be driven by some of the lifestyle changes that come with owning a pet. Dog owners, for example, may get more physical activity (which could lead to slower cognitive decline) because they take their pups on daily walks.

While the exact causal relationship may hard to define and pinpoint here, we can take this research as another sign of the potential benefits to pet ownership — not that we pet lovers out there need another reason to cherish our fur-iends.


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