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The contradictory psychological effects of pets on older people

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The contradictory psychological effects of pets on older people

A priori we could think that during old age, when situations of unwanted loneliness are accentuated, the company of a domestic animal can only bring joy. But if we examine the scientific evidence, the matter is not so clear: on the one hand, some studies reveal that pets, particularly cats and dogs, can act as a protective factor against age-related cognitive decline, while that other research associates its presence in homes with situations of discomfort and stress. They were?

Source of satisfaction… and discomfort

To delve into the animal-human relationship, you first need to know What perception does the population have about what pets provide them in their daily lives? A recent research found that 33% of respondents highlighted positive emotions; 19%, the company; 6%, feelings of guilt; and 2%, stress associated with responsibilities such as cleaning and financial costs.

Conclusion: The connection between owners and their pets is often rewarding, but it can also lead to certain complications.

In order to delve deeper into this complex relationship, a review of 54 studies found that only 31% of them had detected clear psychological benefits. These works argue that proximity to animals improves moodencourages social activity, increases the feeling of belonging and reduces loneliness.

Furthermore, these advantages would especially impact the mental health of older peoplesince social interaction, care planning and remembering the dates of veterinary check-ups (among other stimuli) serve as work tasks and cognitive maintenance.

On the other side of the scale, 9% of the research analyzed by the aforementioned meta-analysis directly associated pet ownership with feelings of overwhelm and anxiety and an emotional dependence on animals.

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More contradictory studies

In addition to corroborating this duality, recent research explored how pets had influenced the mood of their owners during the pandemic.

In general terms, the researchers found that The mere fact of living with animals did not conclusively predict – contrary to what one might think – an increase in psychological well-being. Neither did factors such as the number of pets, the type of relationship with them and the personality of the owner.

To further complicate matters, analysis of results obtained from 378 people over the age of 50 from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging indicate that Having a pet would slow down the inevitable decline in cognitive functions associated with age. And especially in those people who actively participate in the care of their pets, highlighting the role of walks.

Specifically, dog owners showed a less deterioration in memory, executive function, language, psychomotor speed and processing speed over a period of ten years. For their part, cat owners experienced a slowdown in the decline of their memory and linguistic abilities.

This work not only points to a connection between having pets and increasing the cognitive reserve of older people, but also highlights the importance of direct interaction with animals to maximize these positive effects on cognitive processes.

The mystery of a unique relationship

In conclusion, the relationship between pets and the psychological and cognitive well-being of human beings is a complex territory that still entails many questions. While some find comfort and companionship in their pets, others face emotional and practical challenges.

It is clear that pets can play a significant role in the lives of older people, but we cannot automatically assume that they are a universal source of well-being. Every relationship between a person and their pet is governed by a unique dynamic.influenced by factors ranging from the owner’s personality to the specific characteristics of the pet.

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Alejandro Cano Villagrasa, Degree Coordinator of the Degree in Speech Therapy, International University of Valencia and Nadia Porcar Gozalbo, Professional Teaching Researcher, International University of Valencia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

This content was originally published in RED/ACCION and is republished as part of the “Human Journalism” program, an alliance for quality journalism between BLACK RIVER and DRAFTING.

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