Having a Dog Can Reduce Your Chance of Developing Dementia, Study Finds

Jamie Bichelman - Author

Dec. 4 2023, Published 3:18 p.m. ET

An older couple enjoys a hike at sunrise with their companion dog
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The Gist:

  • A long-term Japanese study shows dog companionship can be protective against dementia.
  • Combined with regular exercise and socializing, having a dog can help us stave off cognitive decline as we age.
  • Adopting a dog has seemingly endless benefits for both dog and human.
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Dog parents rejoice: A study of more than 11,000 older adults between the ages of 65 and 84 found that being a dog parent can help protect against dementia, a broadly impactful diagnosis per the CDC that impairs the capacity to communicate, remember, and carry out everyday tasks as normal, among other symptoms.

The longitudinal study, published in late 2023, and launched in Japan in 2016, found that dog parents who exercise regularly and maintain healthy social connections enjoyed a “significantly lower risk” of dementia. With the study authors acknowledging that fewer dogs live as companion animals in Japan compared to Western countries, the results seem especially promising for older adults in the U.S.

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Two older adults in exercise clothes walk their smiling dog while exercising
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Study finds that dog parents have a lower chance of getting dementia.

The researchers behind the study, concerned with promotion of healthy and successful aging techniques, found that exercise, engaging in social activities, and dog parenting were protective factors against dementia. Dog walking, they said, can influence dog parents to socialize more; and depending on the activity, caring for your dog on a regular basis could play a role in physical exercise.

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The study authors' previous research found that dog parents were less susceptible to frailty and illness as they age, as well as developing some form of "disability and all-cause mortality."

An important component of the research found that having a dog by itself wasn't sufficient to provide significant protection against dementia; according to the study authors, "dog owners without daily lifestyle habits related to dog care, such as no exercise habit and social isolation, did not experience positive effects related to dementia prevention."

Extrapolated, these results suggest that having a dog may amplify, or at least promote, other healthy habits that aid in staving off dementia as we age.

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A smiling woman holds her puppy in an outdoor garden
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There are many benefits of adopting a dog.

The benefits of adopting a companion animal over buying one are numerous, and the joy of saving an animal's life and providing them a forever home are priceless. (There's a reason "my shelter dog rescued me" bumper stickers exist.)

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If the tear-jerking stories of rescue dogs showing their gratitude once they're adopted aren't enough, as one Florida-based vet explains, if a dog isn't immediately showing TikTok-worthy excitement upon being adopted, once they've adjusted to their environments and feel a sense of safety, their unconditional love and gratitude will be evident, rendering their adoption "the best decision you could ever make".

It can cost significantly less money to adopt a dog rather than buying one from a private breeder or store, whose supply of dogs for purchase may be sourced from a puppy mill. When you adopt a dog, the adoption fee typically goes towards a veterinarian exam, microchipping, testing for internal wellness, spaying or neutering, and other measures to protect your pet, according to a BeChewy blog post.

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While adopting (i.e. rescuing) a homeless animal would be free in an ideal world (and, in some cases, it is!) according to The Wildest, adoption fees also aid the animal shelter in keeping the lights on, so to speak. That means running a safe place with adequate supplies, including food, medical care, and space, and the employees to keep shelter animals safe while they await their forever homes.

Especially during the winter holiday season, as well as during some summer events, shelters often promote weekend or monthlong specials where adoption fees are waived.

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