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Own a dog? Benefits include less chance of developing dementia

Great efforts are being made throughout the world to reduce the incidence of dementia. Approaches via life-style hold out promise – and we are encouraged to take exercise, balance our diets, and not get overweight, and to receive treatment for treatable conditions and to combat vascular risk factors.

But there is a painless and enjoyable trick which reduces the likelihood of developing dementia by an impressive 40% over a four year follow up: the BMJ drew attention to an important study published in Preventive Medicine Reports: Taniguchi Y et al (2023) ‘Preventive effects of dog ownership against the onset of disabling dementia in older community-dwelling Japanese’ Protective effects of dog ownership against the onset of disabling dementia in older community-dwelling Japanese: A longitudinal study - ScienceDirect

In essence a study of 11,194 adults aged 64 – 84 (mean age 74.2, 51.5% women) from Ota city found those who own dogs have a 40% lower incidence of dementia over four years, than age matched controls who do not own dogs: the new cases of disabling dementia in dog owners amounted to 3.6%. Five percent of non-dog people developed disabling dementia. Dog owners were taking more exercise and meeting more people, but clever statistical analysis teased out that dog ownership had its benefits independent of these activities. Wow!

Cat ownership does not provide this benefit. The team had previously found that people in this age group who owned dogs were less likely to become frail, or disabled, or to die in follow up studies. But this is the first time to effect on dementia incidence has been demonstrated. The diagnosis of dementia depended on returns to the national insurance system of Japan.

Only 8.6% of the Japanese sample were dog owners. More than 30% of households in the UK include a dog. The numbers of dogs in UK households increased by a third during the covid-19 pandemic. All good news for us – a natural way to reduce the hold of dementia on our older population.


Each week we post a blog from David Jolley where he shares his personal views on relevant subjects.

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