Does your (canine) best friend improve your health during childhood and old age?
AMHERST, Mass. – A behavioral scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst continues her research on the impact of the human-animal bond on welfare with two new pilot studies, one involving the elderly and the other focusing on families with young children.
Healthy adults aged 70 to 84 are recruited for the Lifestyle, Brain and Cognitive Health Study, which requires two in-person visits to UMass Amherst.
“Our interest is in how lifestyle factors, including pet ownership, affect cognitive health and brain health in adulthood,” says Katie Potter, assistant professor at kinesiology at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences.
The study will focus on two groups of seniors: those who own a dog and those who don’t. Participants will follow a 30-minute orientation, online or in person, before undergoing a physical and cognitive function assessment at Potter’s Behavioral Medicine Lab. They will complete a survey kit, wear an activity monitor and record their physical activity for seven days. On their last visit to UMass, they will undergo an MRI of their brain to examine its structure and function.
“We want to identify modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline so that we can create interventions to help people maintain brain and cognitive health as they age,” Potter said. “We know there are certain risk factors that we cannot change, such as a person’s age and genetics. But we want to find out what we can change to protect the brain and prevent or at least delay the onset of cognitive decline. Surprisingly, despite the high prevalence of pet ownership in the United States, there is very little research on how pets affect brain health. I think there are many potential mechanisms by which caring for pets could affect the brain and cognition – the routine of caring for them, the companionship they provide, and, with dogs, walking and walking them. connect with neighbors during walks.
For the Kids Interacting with Dogs (KID) study, Potter is looking for families with at least one dog (minimum age of 1 year), at least one child aged 3 to 10, and a parent or guardian who is also willing to participate. She hopes to measure the physical activity that children (and their parents) achieve with the family dog through play and walks. She is also interested in examining how interaction with the dog affects children’s psychosocial well-being. “We’re going to ask the children to tell us about their attachment or relationship with their dog,” Potter said.
The family and dog will wear Bluetooth enabled accelerometers on their wrists or, in the dog’s case, a collar, which will track the amount and intensity of movement and who does the activity together.
While Potter says previous research suggests people with dogs get more physical activity, few studies have used the technology to confirm the amount of activity performed with the dog and its intensity.
“The real novelty of this study is the use of Bluetooth devices on all family members, including dogs,” says Potter. “Knowing the proximity is essential because even if a child is wearing a monitor and the dog is wearing a monitor, the child can run at school while the dog runs at home. You need the proximity information to know that they are active together.
Participants will complete a 30-minute orientation (optionally virtual or in person), an in-person session at UMass for height and weight measurements, survey completion and to collect accelerometers, and a final visit to UMass to return devices. The family will wear the activity monitors for two weeks and the parent will be asked to report all walking and play activities with their dog in the second week.
For details on qualifying for either study, visit the Potter Lab website or email [email protected]