Here’s what helps slow cognitive decline in older people

Here's what helps slow cognitive decline in older people

Have you ever wondered what could help an elderly person living alone? The answer comes from a scientific study: it is a pet animal and more particularly a dog. Explanations from Dr Christophe de Jaeger, physiologist and member of the TipsForWomens expert committee.

It’s a fact: many older people have a pet and often a dog. Beyond the bond that exists between the owner and his animal, owning a dog would help slow down the cognitive decline that elderly people living alone can experience.

Study memory and fluency in word use

For this work, the scientists wanted to study the benefits for elderly people living alone of owning a pet. To do this, the researchers analyzed data from 7,945 people from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging.

The average age of the volunteers studied was 66 years old, and the group, which included a majority of white people, had a fairly even distribution between men and women. To assess their cognitive function, the scientists looked at participants’ verbal memory and fluency in word use. Capabilities that have been evaluated over several years, in order to see their evolution.

Owning a pet: what impact on cognitive health?

Results: Researchers found an association between pet ownership and slower decline in verbal memory and word fluency.

This finding allows experts to suggest that having a pet – particularly a dog, but this has also been observed with cats – could have a protective effect on certain cognitive functions in people living alone. Indeed, researchers have not observed this among older people living with other people.

An observational study that must be continued

According to the scientists, their work has a limitation, because it is an observational study which does not allow a firm and definitive conclusion to be drawn on these results. “Randomized clinical trials are needed to assess whether pet ownership slows the rate of cognitive decline in older adults living alone.” believe the authors.

Questioned, Dr. Christophe de Jaeger believes that these initial conclusions corroborate what we already know about aging well. “These conclusions reinforce what we have known for a long time. Namely that the emotional bond and the interactions that occur between an owner and his animal make it possible to fight against depression and loneliness. first explains the expert.

Without forgetting the fact that having a dog requires you to go out, at least twice a day, therefore to get dressed, to see other people and to chat: all elements which promote the fact of moving, this which has an impact on the entire body, but also to socialize with other animal owners” he concludes.