Owning a pet could slow cognitive decline in older adults living alone, a new study has revealed.

Cognitive decline occurs when a person has an impaired ability to learn, remember and make judgments. It can range from mild cognitive impairment to severe conditions such as dementia, which interferes with a person's daily life.

Around 5.8 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, according to the estimates.

Studies have shown a concerning link between living alone and an increased risk of cognitive decline in older adults. According to a recent meta-analysis, older adults living alone are at high risk for developing dementia, and the population-attributable fraction for living alone is 8.9%.

In the latest study, involving 7,945 participants at the age of 50 and above, researchers compared rates of cognitive decline between pet owners and non-pet owners over nine years. They found that pet ownership was associated with slower rates of decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency among those living alone.

During the study, participants performed several tests designed to measure their verbal memory, verbal fluency and skills to perform daily tasks. They were asked to recall 10 unrelated words just after hearing them and then repeat them after a while. Another task involved naming as many animals as possible within a minute.

"In this cohort study, pet ownership was associated with slower rates of decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency among older adults living alone, but not among those living with others, and pet ownership offset the associations between living alone and declining rates in verbal memory and verbal fluency," the researchers wrote in the study, published in Jama Network.

Researchers say people who live alone should consider adding a pet to their lives to counter loneliness, social isolation and associated cognitive decline.

"Pet ownership may completely offset the effect of living alone on cognitive decline," said study co-author Ciyong Lu, from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China.