Pet owners stay mentally sharper for longer

Pet owners see a slower cognitive decline after they reach the age of 65, a new study has found.  The benefits were greatest in those who have had a dog or cat for at least five years.

Researchers from the University of Michigan medical center tracked the health and mental capabilities of 1,369 people with an average age of 65.  Around half owned a pet, and a third of these had had a pet for more than five years.

Using regular cognitive tests, the researchers discovered that the pet owners were recording higher scores over the six years of the study, and the scores were higher still in those who were longtime pet owners.

The researchers think that a pet reduces stress levels, and this can have a direct impact on our cognitive abilities, such as memory and problem solving.   A pet also increases physical activity—a dog needs to have a few walks a day, for instance—and this, too, can improve cognitive abilities.

The reduced stress levels also lower the owner’s blood pressure.

(Source: Proceedings of the American Academy of Neurology 74th annual meeting)

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