FEATURE — If an apple a day can keep the doctor away, what will a flu vaccine get you? The answer may be better health today and improved odds of maintaining your brainpower in the future.
The risks posed by the flu are pretty self-evident for older adults. According to a press release from the Utah Alzheimer’s Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in the 2018-2019 flu season, 35.5 million people in the U.S. contracted the flu, resulting in 34,200 deaths. Of those fatalities, about 75% were among people over age 65.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is another reason for concern – again with a higher risk of death for older Americans. The CDC estimates that 79% of deaths from the coronavirus have been among those 65 and older, but at this time, there is no proven vaccine for the coronavirus.
In the meantime, public health experts are urging all people – particularly those over 65 – to not let the coronavirus pandemic cause them to miss getting vaccinated for the seasonal flu.
Not only can the flu vaccine both reduce the likelihood that one will catch the flu or the severity of it if it does develop, but there is new research from the Alzheimer’s Association that shows that the flu vaccine (as well as the pneumonia vaccine) can have real benefits in preserving our cognitive health.
Research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference by researchers at The University of Texas’ McGovern Medical School recently showed that receiving at least one flu vaccination was associated with a 17% reduction in Alzheimer’s incidence. More frequent flu vaccinations were associated with an additional 13% reduction in Alzheimer’s incidence.
Pneumonia vaccination benefits as well
Similarly, research conducted by Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute found that receiving a pneumonia vaccination between ages 65 and 75 reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 25% to 35%.
The total number of vaccinations against pneumonia and the flu between ages 65 and 75 was also associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s – although that effect was not evident for the flu shot alone.
“While further research on this subject is necessary, these results are encouraging,” said Ronnie Daniel, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Utah, in the press release. “The reality may be that taking care of yourself in this way – including getting vaccinations – may add up to lower risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”
While both of these vaccination reports will require more research to validate their findings, Alzheimer’s Association experts advise older adults to talk to their family physician to see if they should take advantage of the vaccines – if only to benefit from the value they offer in reducing flu and pneumonia risk, which is more severe for older adults.
“If these research findings are upheld in further studies, it will provide accessible and affordable interventions that could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia,” Daniel said. “With 6 million Americans and 34,000 Utahns living with Alzheimer’s, every step forward that we make is crucial for improving the health and quality of life for many of our families.”
He noted that further research, including large, diverse clinical trials will help determine whether vaccinations should be part of a public health strategy to decrease people’s risk for developing dementia as they age.
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