Study Finds Good News for Dog Ownership and Dementia Risk
Most people are already aware of the mental health benefits of dog ownership, such as reduced stress, depression, and loneliness. But a new study from Japan found that man’s best friend can also help adults over the age of 65 reduce the odds of dementia, a cognitive condition that affects more than 55 million people worldwide, by as much as 40 percent.
The study, which was conducted by a research team from the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute for Geriatrics and Gerontology, surveyed more than 11,000 people between the ages of 65 and 84. Participants were asked whether they owned cats, dogs, or had no pets; as well as which types of exercise they engaged in more than once per week, such as walking, running, yoga, swimming, and cycling. After four years, researchers reassessed participants’ health conditions, and whether or not they had developed any dementia symptoms.
The team was able to break down the risk of developing the disease into an “odds ratio.” The risk for dog owners was calculated as 0.6, whereas cat owners were at 0.98 risk and 1.0 for people who did not have any dogs or cats.
Those who reported having a dog were more likely to get out of the house more frequently. This leads to increased interactions with other humans, which has a “suppressive effect” on dementia. Additionally, because dog owners are generally more active, exercise reduces an abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain that are found in dementia patients, as well as promoting the flow of blood to the brain and stimulating cell growth and survival.
“Dog ownership had a suppressive effect on incident disabling dementia after adjusting for background factors during an approximately four-year follow-up period,” the study’s authors write. “Specifically, dog owners with an exercise habit and no social isolation had a significantly lower risk of disabling dementia.”
“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,” the study concluded.