[Paleopsych] NYT: It Can Be Done: Scientists Teach Old Dogs New Tricks

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Tue Jan 25 14:56:11 UTC 2005

It Can Be Done: Scientists Teach Old Dogs New Tricks
NYT January 25, 2005

Old beagles, like old humans, act younger and smarter when
they get the right diet and plenty of intellectual
stimulation. A report published in the January issue of
Neurobiology of Aging found that a diet rich in
antioxidants combined with a stimulating environment slowed
the canine aging process.

The scientists divided the 48 beagles, ages 8 to 11, into
four groups, giving them an enriched diet, an enriched
environment, neither or both. The diet was fortified with
vitamin E, vitamin C and other antioxidants. The dogs in
the enriched environment group were housed with kennel
mates, exercised twice a week for 15 minutes and challenged
with tasks like learning to distinguish between a white box
and a black box.

By the end of the two-year trial, it was clear that the
enriched diet alone and the enriched environment alone were
each helpful in preventing decline. But the mental
functioning of the dogs given a combination of enriched
diet and stimulating environment was considerably higher
than that of the dogs in the other three groups, the
researchers found.

One author of the paper works for the company that sells
the dog food used in the study.

Dr. William Milgram, the paper's lead author and a
professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, said
that one of the dogs, Scamps, "was basically a stupid dog."

"He did about as poorly on our cognitive tasks as any of
the dogs in the study," Dr. Milgram said.

Fortunately for Scamps, he was in the group that got the
combination of enriched food and enriched environment. By
the end of the study, Scamps was about average compared
with the other dogs - but not because he had gotten

"What happened," said Dr. Milgram, "was that he remained
the same, while the dogs in the other groups showed
expected deterioration."

What the study's findings mean for humans remains unclear,
but Dr. Milgram believes the work may have important

"We're not going to 'fix' old age by discovering the magic
anti-aging potion," he said. "We have to look very
carefully at our living environment, and at mental

Dogs, he said, are good models for the study of human
aging. While they "are obviously not people," he added,
"they have similar brain structures, develop similar brain
pathologies, have similar nutritive requirements, and live
in similar environments."


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