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Blog#13 Can pets actually protect your brain??! It Turns out that Dogs can even better than cats!

My first blog of this year is about pets and dementia.  Let's start with a Japanese study that was published in October of last year. This study was conducted for people aged 65 and over living in Ota Ward by the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute for Geriatrics and Gerontology *1.  Of the 11,194 participants (average age 74.2 years, 51.5% female and 48.5% male, 67.1% married), 959 (8.6%) owned dogs and 704 (6.3%) owned cats at the time of the survey (2016).  Among them, 124 people had both dogs and cats. They followed these participants for about four years to track the incidences of dementia up to 2020.  As a result, those who had dogs had a 40% lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not.  They also looked at the participants' exercise habits and whether they were socially isolated, and found that among dog owners, those who exercised regularly and were not socially isolated had a significantly lower risk of developing dementia. Also, the same effect was not seen in people who owned cats. The researchers concluded that caring for dogs might help owners exercise on a daily basis and maintain more social participation, which in turn may lead to the prevention of dementia in owners.

The second study, published in December last year, was reported from the UK and is based on data from a long-term cohort study of community-dwelling adults aged 50 years and older.  Of those, 7,945 individuals (average age 66.3 years, 56% female and 44% male, 97.5% white) were selected.  The participants were evaluated for verbal memory and fluency from 2010 to 2019 every other year. Of these participants, 2,791 (35.1%) had some kind of pet, and 2,139 (26.9%) lived alone.  And the result of this study was that among people who had pets, those who lived alone had a slower decline in verbal memory and fluency than those who lived with others.  People living alone without pets had a faster decline in the above abilities than people who had pets and lived with others. The researchers also concluded from these results that pet ownership might be beneficial for older people living alone.

These two studies are very intriguing in that they examined whether pet ownership affects cognition, although the conditions are different.   Since the first study was conducted on Japanese people, it is possible that other ethnic/cultural groups might not have the same result or outcome.  However, considering both studies, it might be beneficial for your cognition to own a dog if you are older and live alone.  If you are a cat lover, I am sorry but maybe, it’s time to consider having a dog instead…or have both?!


*1 Taniguchi, Y., Seino, S., Ikeuchi, T., Hata, T., Shinkai, S., Kitamura, A., & Fujiwara, Y. (2023). Protective effects of dog ownership against the onset of disabling dementia in older community-dwelling Japanese: A longitudinal study. Preventive medicine reports36, 102465.

*2 Li Y, Wang W, Zhu L, et al. Pet Ownership, Living Alone, and Cognitive Decline Among Adults 50 Years and Older. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(12):e2349241. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.49241

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