A new study conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute for Geriatrics and Gerontology found that there is a significant link between dementia risk and pet ownership among the elderly.
The study looked at more than 11,000 individuals between the ages of 65 and 84 in Tokyo, Japan, which is approximately 10 percent of the city’s older population.
More specifically, they examined the link between having dogs and pets, and their weekly exercise habits, including activities such as yoga, walking, swimming, running, and cycling.
The study, which spanned four years, used data from the country’s long-term care insurance system, to determine whether or not an individual has incident disabling dementia.
The results showed that owning a dog significantly reduced the risk of severe dementia. The study also took into account different background factors. For example, those dog owners who exercised regularly and were not socially isolated typically had lower incidences of severe dementia.
The act of caring for an animal, also facilitates social activity, physical activity, and routine exercise.
Results of the Study
The study, which was published in the National Library of Medicine earlier this month, found that:
– Owning and taking care of a dog significantly lowers the risk of severe dementia
– Routine exercise and social engagement among those with dogs are associated with a lower risk of dementia
– Owning a cat does not have a significant effect in lowering the risk of dementia
The findings indicate that those who have dogs have a smaller chance of developing dementia, compared to those without pets and those who have cats.
For analysis, the study used an ‘odds ratio’ method. It was determined that dog owners have a risk factor of 0.6, while cat owners have a risk factor of 0.98 (those without any animals were at a baseline risk of 1.0). This suggests that cat ownership has little to no difference in lowering the risk of dementia.
One explanation for this is the fact that dogs have a greater impact on their owners’ lifestyles. Not only are they more likely to venture outside, but they also have higher social engagement, the latter of which is known for ‘suppressing’ the development of dementia.
Not only that but dog owners also tend to exercise more, which helps reduce certain proteins from accumulating in the brain – ones that are associated with dementia. It also promotes better cell growth, cerebral blood flow, and survival.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Taniguchi, noted that current dog owners are 40 percent less likely to develop disabling dementia compared to those who have never owned a dog and those who don’t presently own a dog.
Cat owners, on the other hand, have an odds ratio of 0.98, meaning that their ownership has a negligible effect.