By Jared Paventi, Alzheimer’s Association, Central New York Chapter
Everyone has their eyes on this year’s flu season, which is predicted to collide with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC and other health agencies are already issuing strong recommendations to the public to get their flu shot as early as possible.
In addition to protecting against the flu, flu shots may also have an unexpected benefit: lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Two studies reviewed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in July centered on the topic of vaccinations link to Alzheimer’s prevention. Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston presented new data suggesting that getting a flu shot may decrease the incidence of Alzheimer’s by 17%. Receiving flu shots over the course of multiple years showed a reduction of an additional 13%. This is the first-ever scientific study to suggest this relationship.
A second study by researchers at Duke University found that receiving a vaccination against pneumonia between the ages 65 and 75 reduced Alzheimer’s risk by up to 40%, depending on individual genes.
“The positive health impacts of the flu vaccine are well documented,” said Catherine James, chief executive officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, Central New York Chapter. “That it has residual effects such as reducing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s is encouraging and shows the need for greater investment in this line of research.”
The CDC recommends all Americans age six months and older receive a flu shot annually. Vaccines are a convenient, safe preventative measure against disease. With the dual-threat of a COVID-19 and influenza impacting society in 2020, receiving a flu shot has never been greater.
“Vaccines play an important role in staying healthy,” James said. “This research gives us hope that simple steps to taking care of your health, like getting a flu shot, can add up to lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”
These studies are an important first step in understanding the role of vaccinations and their impact on Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s Association scientific staff have urged further studies in large, diverse clinical trials to examine the impact of vaccinations as a public health strategy across the population to decrease the risk of developing dementia.
Flu vaccinations are widely available beyond the doctor’s office; many pharmacies and grocery stores offer flu shots to customers and communities are offering large-scale public clinics this fall. Contact your local health department to learn about availability in your community.
Individuals and families looking for more information about Alzheimer’s and other dementias, caregiving, and community resources to support those living with the disease can contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or visit alz.org/cny.