If you’re looking for a reason to get a pet, here’s an interesting one. According to a study from the University of Michigan, having a pet may protect your brain from the effects of aging. That’s right. Fido may help keep you sharper mentally as you age.
The study followed 20,000 adults over the age of 50. Every other year between 2010 to 2016 they were asked about their pet status and tested on cognitive performance. The researchers found pet ownership made a difference for participants over the age of 65, the time when Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia typically begin to surface.
Researchers also found that ownership duration matters. Participants over the age of 65 who had a pet for longer than five years scored better on cognitive tests than people of the same age who’d owned a pet for a shorter time, and non-pet owners. The study also found that pet owners tended to have lower BMI and lower instances of diabetes and hypertension.
It’s important to note however, that the study shows correlation not causation. People who can care for pets later in life might just have higher cognitive scores to begin with (that’s why they can manage caring for a pet later in life). Also, pet owners tend to be white with higher incomes and higher education, factors that are associated with slower cognitive decline.
The study authors state: “We do not recommend pet ownership as a therapeutic intervention; however, if a causal link exists between sustained pet ownership and cognitive health, older adults who are interested in or committed to pet ownership could benefit from social policies and community partnerships to provide support for owners.”
So, before you run out and go buy a dog or cat, remember that pet ownership is a big responsibility and will require commitment, money, and time. Local shelters are full of pets people thought they wanted, but couldn’t handle. You don’t want to be that person. But if you take the pet ownership “plunge”, you will find love, companionship, and based on this research, a better brain!