Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Quality of Life For Man and Beast

"The companionship of creatures great and small seems to confer essentially no relation with standard physical and psychological biomarkers of aging."
Research study, British Medical Journal

"[The finding was] a surprise, a real surprise."
"There's some evidence that there is a protective effect. As a pet owner, I can see the benefits of walking dogs, the emotional companionship a dog provides, as well as the interaction with other pet owners while out and about."
"Our results did not confirm our hypothesis [that pets] are a protective factor [against human aging]."
"Our results showed that in this sample of almost 9,000 people—average age 67 years—for those who owned a pet, no health benefits were found,"
"As always with research, our study raises more questions than answers. More interventional research is needed to assess the potential effects of pet ownership."
Dr. Richard Watt, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College, London
Scientists say pets can't slow the ageing process Credit: Oxford Scientific RM

Science is never settled, it seems. Society has become accustomed to the belief that pet ownership not only increases the quality of life through association with an dependent animal, trusting and loving, but that constant interaction between human and companion animal results in improved health and presumably a longer life. A new study, however, came up with results completely counteracting that assumption. The new analysis that has seen publication in the prestigious medical journal BMJ, concludes that pet ownership may not, after all, prolong life.

Over 8,700 seniors were included in the study which took place in Britain. One-third of the seniors were distinguished as pet owners. A research team saw their goal as searching out whether having a pet affected 11 different, widely used biomarkers of ageing. Those biomarkers included walking speed, grip strength, lung function and markers of inflammation in the blood, as well as effects on memory and cognitive functioning.

Pet ownership, they discovered, does not after all, appear to reduce ageing rate. Dog companionship was associated in fact, with somewhat slower times in walking several metres in comparison with non-pet owners. It took those owning pets longer to rise from a chair than non-pet owners, although the dog owners appeared to have slightly improved lung function. As for cat owners, they were likelier to fail a leg-raise test than those in other pet ownership groups (which stands to reason; one doesn't 'walk' cats on leashes normally; the pet-owner exercise function is absent).

However, irrespective of whether it is a dog, a cat, a hamster or a reptile or bird appeared "essentially unrelated" to immune functioning, with no evident association discovered between any type of pet and memory or on symptoms of depression. Even when the researchers took into account weight, smoking, alcohol, physical activity, social isolation and loneliness along with other factors, the findings were unchanged; the results were reflective of both male and female pet owners.

Confoundedly, in November Swedish researchers had scoured national registries of over 3.4 million Swedes between the ages of 40 to 80 to conclude that dog owners had a lower risk of death as a result of cardiovascular disease during the twelve-year follow-up. Single dog owners in the Swedish research were found to have a 33 percent reduction in risk of death and 11 percent lower risk of heart attack over the study period, in comparison with single non-pet-owners.

Pet ownership, concluded the American Heart Association in 2014, particularly dog companions, is "probably associated" with a lower risk of the number one cause of death globally, cardiovascular disease. Cardiologists with the Heart Association however, pointed out that since most studies were not randomized, no great degree of confidence should be placed in the results, that the observed reduction in the risk of heart disease and stroke might be simply coincidental, as unlikely as that may seem to be.

The British research team that included Dr. Watt made use of data extracted from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a study still ongoing of men and women aged 40 or older, living in England when they were recruited in 2002-03. In 2010-11, 8,785 people were asked "do you keep any household pets inside your house/flat?" Of that number, a third owned a pet (18 percent a dog, 12 percent a cat and three percent another type of animal). No evidence was found overall to link pet ownership with the various biomarkers of ageing.
"The current study did not examine traditionally measured variables associated with pet ownership, such as heart rate, blood pressure or cortisol [a stress hormone]."
"This is an important study, and clearly more research is needed. But I wouldn't discount, quite yet, the social support and unconditional affection that we can obtain from our pets."
Robert Matchock, associate professor of psychology, Pennsylvania State University 

"But, intuitively, it makes sense. I give letters for people to have therapeutic dogs all the time—they're a source of joy and stimulation. But to go as far as to say the dog would help prevent a heart attack, I think that might be impossible to pinpoint."
Dr. Aaron Pinkhasov, chairman of behavioral health, NYU Winthrop, Mineola, N.Y

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