Owning a Pet May Lower Risk of Dementia for Adults 50 and Older, Study Says

Researchers found that adults 50 years and older who own a pet have a lower chance of memory loss

Dennis Kleinman/Getty Images Woman cuddles dog on porch.
Dennis Kleinman/Getty Images Woman cuddles dog on porch.

Owning a dog may help lower your risk of dementia, a new study says.

In the study – published in the journal JAMA Network Open – 7,945 participants who were 50 years and older were evaluated to see if having a dog would also help their brain health. The findings were promising for pet owners.

From the data, researchers found that pet ownership is associated with a lower chance of memory loss and a decline in cognitive skills for people living alone. According to the study, in the past few decades, the proportion of individuals living alone has shown an upward trend.

Among participants who live alone, those who had a pet showed less of a decline in mental and verbal fluency than those who didn't have an animal companion. Per the study, having a pet helped reduce loneliness, which is risk factor for dementia.

However, researchers didn't see a big difference for dog owners who live with other people. They also added that more clinical research is needed to prove that pet ownership can slow cognitive decline among people aged 50 and over who live on their own.

"It is estimated that the number of people with dementia worldwide will increase from 57 million in 2019 to 153 million in 2050," the study said. "The deterioration of cognitive function not only seriously impairs individuals’ well-being but also brings a huge burden to their caregivers, as well as the financial and health systems of society."

<p>The Spruce Pets / Bianca Kratky</p> Woman walks a dog on a leash

The Spruce Pets / Bianca Kratky

Woman walks a dog on a leash

Related: Study Uses Science to Confirm That Cuddling a Dog Is Good for Your Health

In 2021, a similar study conducted by the University of British Columbia Okanagan found that cuddling a dog is proven to benefit a person's well-being.

In the study the school's education program assessed the mental state of 284 undergraduate students before and after they met with a service dog from their Building Academic Retention Through K-9s (BARK) program.

"There have been a number of studies that have found canine-assisted interventions significantly improve participants' wellbeing, but there has been little research into what interactions provide the greatest benefits," the study's lead author Dr. John-Tyler Binfet said in a statement. "We know that spending time with therapy dogs is beneficial, but we didn't know why."

Related: Dogs May Stay in 'Better Health' If They Have a Pet Friend at Home, Study Finds

Participants were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions: canine interaction treatment conditions, touch or no touch canine interaction or a handler-only condition where no dog was present. Researchers asked participating students before and after the interactions to measure their self-perceptions of flourishing, positive and negative affect, social connectedness, happiness, integration into the campus community, stress, homesickness, and loneliness.

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"Results indicate that participants across all conditions experienced enhanced wellbeing on several measures; however, only those in the direct contact condition reported significant improvements on all measures of wellbeing," the study stated.

"Additionally, direct interactions with therapy dogs through touch elicited greater wellbeing benefits than did no touch/indirect interactions or interactions with only a dog handler."

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