For the growing number of older adults who live alone, having a pet such as a dog or cat by their side could help them maintain a healthy brain, a new study has said.
In the study published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the researchers mentioned that "pet ownership was associated with slower rates of decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency among individuals living alone, but not among those living with others".
According to them, pet ownership offset the link between living alone and declining rates of verbal memory and verbal fluency.
The study included 7,945 participants 50 years and older. Researchers found that 28.5 per cent of all Americans lived in single-person households in 2021, indicating that more and more people are living alone as they age.
They also estimated that the number of people with dementia worldwide will increase from 57 million in 2019 to 153 million in 2050.
No effective therapy is currently available to successfully reverse cognitive decline or treat dementia, the researchers mentioned.
"Older adults living alone are at high risk for developing dementia, and living alone is a state that is not easily changed. It is worth noting that compared with pet owners living with others, pet owners living alone did not show faster rates of decline in verbal memory or verbal fluency," the researchers said.
According to the researchers, loneliness is a potential mediator in the association of living alone with dementia among older adults.
Contrary to living alone, pet ownership (eg, raising dogs and cats) is related to reduced loneliness -- an important risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline.
However, the association between pet ownership and the rate of cognitive decline has not been fully explored, and the existing findings remain controversial, the researchers noted.