A study of US adults over the age of 50 found that pet owners scored higher on cognitive memory tests.
People who had owned a pet for more than five years scored higher than those who had owned a pet for a shorter period, or those who had never owned one, ScienceAlert reported.
"In this study, we examined associations between sustained ownership of a pet and cognitive function among a national sample of US adults," the researchers write.
They add that the association between pet ownership and higher cognition scores was best for verbal memory tests such as memorising word lists.
Long-term pet ownership may help to protect against cognitive decline and researchers suggest that further research is necessary.
The study was published in Ageing and Health.
The researchers write, “These findings provide early evidence to suggest that long-term pet ownership could be protective against cognitive disparities, providing a novel and fundamental step to examine how sustained relationships with companion animals may contribute to brain health among older adults.”
The study included people who owned rabbits, birds, hamsters, reptiles and fish, as well as cats and dogs.
Pet owners saw cognitive decline delayed by 1.2 points over a six-year-period, the researchers say.
Dr Tiffany Braley, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan, told CNN, “These findings provide early evidence to suggest that long-term pet ownership could be protective against cognitive decline.”
Braley says that the link between pets and cognitive decline may be due to the effect owning an animal has on stress.
Braley says, “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.”
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