I’ve written before on this blog about having a keen interest in studies that involve dementia, Alzheimer’s and overall cognitive health, while also maintaining a healthy skepticism. This week a preliminary study about how having a pet could benefit cognitive health made the rounds on social media. Those of us who are pet owners know how much love and joy they can bring to our lives. But it’s also important to understand and be able to manage the challenging moments as they age and develop health issues of their own.
The study found that those who had owned pets for five or more years were able to delay cognitive decline by 1.2 points vs. those in the study who did not have pets over a six-year period. The study analyzed cognitive data of more than 1,300 adults age 50 or over. While researchers were only able to establish an association, not a cause and effect with this study, the findings support prior research in this area.
Pets offer loyal companionship and keep us on a routine. Dog ownership encourages daily walks, and regular exercise has been demonstrated to have cognitive benefits. By just being their unique and adorable selves, pets can offer us moments of joy that help relieve stress and lift our spirits. As a society, we should do everything we can to make sure elders and those with health issues have the support they need to keep their beloved pets with them, whether its at home or in a residential facility.
Pets can also present a host of challenges, from behavioral to health issues. I personally have experienced this and dealt with an extended period of sleep deprivation. Researchers believe our quality of sleep, especially in middle age, has an impact upon our cognitive health and that poor sleep may increase our risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias later in life.
I cannot imagine my life without my pets, but I also accept the considerable responsibility that I have in maintaining their well-being. If you have elder loved ones with pets, check on them to make sure that there are no care issues that need to be addressed.