If you have a pet, you probably already believe in the value of spending more time snuggling up with your animal friends.

But in case you were on the fence, there’s new scientific research suggesting long-term pet ownership could be good for your brain, and even help slow cognitive decline in older adults.

A preliminary study published Wednesday by researchers at the University of Michigan linked having a pet for five years or more with delayed brain aging in adults around 65 years old. The new data is expected to be presented at the 74th Annual Meeting in Seattle in April.

“Previous studies have suggested that the human-animal bond may have health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and stress,” Dr. Tiffany Braley of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor said in a news release. , Michigan, study author. . However, she added, “our results suggest that having a pet may also protect against cognitive decline.”

The researchers analyzed cognitive data from an existing study of more than 1,300 older adults with an average age of 65 who had normal cognitive abilities at the start of the study. Of those participants, 53% owned pets and 32% described themselves as long-term pet owners, meaning they had owned a pet for five years or more.

The researchers measured cognitive function based on tests administered to study participants over a six-year period, including number counting, subtraction problems and word recall tests. Based on how the participants performed on those tests each year, they received a cognitive score ranging from 0 to 27.

The Michigan researchers found that over the six-year period, cognitive scores declined at a slower rate in pet owners than in those without pets. The difference in cognitive decline was even greater among long-term pet owners. On average, long-term pet owners had a 1.2 point higher cognitive score compared to participants without pets.

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