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Dog owners are much less likely to develop dementia

A recent study from Japan has revealed that owning a dog can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia in old age. The experts found that dog owners over the age of 65 were 40 percent less likely to develop dementia.

The study marks the first scientific establishment of a clear link between dog ownership and a lowered risk of dementia.

Studying dog owners

The research wad focused on nearly 12,000 residents in Tokyo aged 65 and older. It was conducted over four years by the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute for Geriatrics and Gerontology

The experts compared the mental health of older adults who were current dog owners, previous owners, and those who never owned a dog.

The researchers meticulously accounted for various factors including gender, marital status, education, income, health history, and exercise habits, regardless of pet ownership. The average age of the participants was 74.2 years, with 51.5% being female. 

Regular exercise and social interaction 

Dr Yu Taniguchi, the lead author of the study, noted that individuals who owned a dog had therefore exercised, making new connections with people as they walked their pets.

“Having a dog enabled owners to habitually take exercise and avoid social isolation and these were the two key factors in people having a much lower risk of developing dementia,” explained Dr. Taniguchi.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the protective effects against dementia were still present in dog owners who did not regularly exercise or engage socially, though to a lesser extent than those who did. 

“Having a dog effectively requires people to get into the habit of physical activity and that makes it much more likely that they will then have interactions and socialize with other people,” said Dr. Taniguchi.

Cats and dementia 

The researchers also investigated the relationship between owning cats and dementia. They determined that cat ownership was not effective for preventing dementia

This is due to the fact that owners do not walk their cats and they do not bring people together socially in the way that dogs do, said Dr. Taniguchi, who has a Jack Russell terrier.

He added that he was not surprised by the group’s findings, as earlier research had identified the potential health benefits of pets.

Frailty and disability 

Prior research has already hinted at the health benefits of dog ownership, including reduced frailty in old age and delayed onset of disabilities and death

“Although some previous study reported no-significant association of pet ownership with mortality, systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that dog ownership is associated with lower risk of death over the long term,” wrote Dr. Taniguchi and his co-authors.

“Our previous study revealed that older adults who had owned a dog and/or cat had lower risk of incident frailty, with dog owners at baseline showing 0.81 times the likelihood of developing incident frailty than never dog owners during 2-year follow-up period.”

Improved well-being of dog owners

During the coronavirus pandemic, dog owners also reported better well-being than those without pets, likely due to increased exercise and social opportunities.

“Dog care might contribute to the maintenance of physical activity, including having an exercise habit, and social participation even in the face of restrictions to interactions such as those experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote the researchers. 

The study is published in the December edition of Preventive Medicine Reports.


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