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Elderly pet owners living alone had slower cognitive decline

Owning a pet could help slow cognitive decline in older adults living alone, according to a study published this week.

A large cohort study of adults aged 50 and over living in the UK showed that pet owners had less verbal memory and decreased verbal fluency compared to people living alone without a pet of company. The findings from researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, were published in JAMA Network Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Medical Association.

The study, which does not prove that pet ownership causes slower declines but is instead associated with them, builds on existing evidence that preventing isolation, Loneliness and stress can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias, said Dr. Thomas Wisnieski, director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at NYU Langone Health, in New York. There is currently no known cure for dementia.

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“Generally speaking, many studies have shown that being isolated is bad for cognition and increases the risk of developing dementia,” said Wisnieski, who was not involved in the study.

The UK’s elderly population, like that of the US, is expected to grow and life expectancy is expected to increase, raising concerns about public health demands as their cognitive functions decline. Already, more than 1 in 10 Americans aged 65 and older suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, according to the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 6 million people have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to rise to 14 million by 2060.

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