The purpose of this study was to compare risk factors for dementia in pet caretakers and non-pet caretakers in adults aged 50 years and older, and to examine the association between pet caretaking and conversion of normal baseline cognition to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and conversion of baseline MCI to dementia over a 12-year timespan, accounting for confounding variables. Data were drawn from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal cohort study based on a national probability sample of US adults aged 50 years and older. Study participants included those who reported taking care of a pet (n = 673) and those who reported not taking care of a pet (n = 1,578) for 12 years (2002–2014). As age increased, the odds of pet caretaking decreased, Black participants had lower odds of pet caretaking than White participants, and those engaging in more physical activity had higher odds of pet caretaking, yet those who had diabetes and a history of smoking also had higher odds of pet caretaking. When adjusted for potentially confounding baseline factors, there was no evidence that the risk of MCI among those with normal baseline cognition or dementia among those with baseline MCI differed between pet caretakers and non-caretakers (p = 0.52 and p = 0.39, respectively). This study provides evidence for the associations between pet caretaking with younger age, race (White), and more physical activity in older adults. However, pet caretakers had higher odds of diabetes and history of smoking, and there was no link with incident MCI or dementia. More research is warranted to determine if physically active older adults acquire pets, if pet caretaking improves physical activity, if pets are the reason why older adults with diabetes decide to own pets, and if pets affect diabetes or other health outcomes.
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