Living alone? Owning a pet may be the best medicine for dementia

GUANGZHOU, China — For people over the age of 50 and living alone, owning a pet may be the best way of preventing dementia. New research reveals that pet ownership displays a link to slower declines in verbal memory and fluency among older adults who live by themselves.

However, researchers in China note that this benefit does not extend to older individuals who live with others. Their study involved more than 7,900 British participants, all over the age of 50, with an average age of 66. Of these participants, 35.1 percent owned pets, and 26.9 percent lived alone.

Previous studies have suggested that older adults living alone are at a higher risk of developing dementia. While some research has found a positive association between pet ownership and improved verbal memory and executive function in older adults, other studies have not found any significant evidence supporting this.

The new study attempted to clear up this relationship between owning pets and cognitive decline. Researchers also aimed to figure out how this relationship is influenced by the pet owner’s living situation.

Elderly Woman Holding Her Dog
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels

Pet ownership offset the associations between living alone and declining rates in verbal memory and verbal fluency,” researchers say in JAMA Network Open.

“Pet ownership was associated with slower rates of decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency among older adults living alone, but not among those living with others. And pet ownership offset the associations between living alone and declining rates in verbal memory and verbal fluency. These findings suggest that pet ownership may be associated with slower cognitive decline among older adults living alone.”

Studies predict that the number of people with dementia worldwide will triple by 2050, potentially reaching 150 million people. There is currently no definitive cure for the disease, although new drugs have been approved for the treatment of dementia symptoms.

“Clinical trials are needed to assess whether pet ownership slows the rate of cognitive decline in older adults living alone.”

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South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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