Pet ownership and cognitive decline in older people

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Nicola Veronese *
Lee Smith
Vania Noventa
Guillermo F. López-Sánchez
Jacopo Demurtas
Christopher F. Sharpley
Vicki Bitsika
Sarah E. Jackson
(*) Corresponding Author:
Nicola Veronese | ilmannato@gmail.com

Abstract

Animals can have a positive influence on human health. However, it is not yet known whether pet ownership can prevent cognitive decline. Therefore, we aimed to investigate cross-sectional and prospective associations between pet ownership and cognitive function in a large, representative sample of older adults. Data were from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) using data collected in wave 5 and six years later in wave 8. Pet ownership was categorized as no pet, dog, cat or other pet. Cognitive function was assessed using tests of verbal fluency (assessed by asking how many different animals the participants could name in 60 seconds) and memory (sum of immediate and delayed verbal recall). Multiple linear regression, adjusted for potential confounders, was used to test the associations between pet ownership and cognitive function. A total of 8291 people (mean age: 66.72 years) were included. In cross-sectional analyses, dog owners had better verbal fluency than individuals with no pet, but there was no significant difference between cat or other pet owners and those with no pet. In prospective analyses, dog owners had a significantly larger decline in recall than those with no pet, whilst cat owners had a significantly smaller decline in verbal fluency. These results provide some evidence to suggest that pet ownership may have positive effects on cognition in later life. However, benefits of pet ownership were not unilaterally observed across different types of pet and measures of cognitive function suggesting that further research is required.


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