Annual flu shots may protect individuals from more than the flu


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COLUMBUS, OH—As fall begins and the annual flu season emerges, many thoughts turn to flu vaccinations, which prevent more than 100,000 U.S. flu-related hospitalizations every year, according to the CDC. Exciting research has emerged providing convincing evidence to encourage individuals to receive a flu shot this year: reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

According to this newly published research, with nearly 2 million participants, data shows that people who do not get vaccinated against influenza have a 60 percent higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s or another dementia, compared to people who do get their flu shot. The study results were published in the “Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease” in June.

“As fall begins and our weather turns colder, vaccines tend to be at the forefront of public health discussions,” said Pam Myers, RN, and program director of the Alzheimer’s Association Central Ohio Chapter. “Annual flu vaccinations offer protection against the flu virus, but we are discovering that they also improve long-term health outcomes such as reducing our risk for Alzheimer’s, cardiac arrest and hospitalizations due to diabetes.”

An earlier study of over 9,000 individuals into the influence that flu vaccines have on dementia risk presented at the 2020 Alzheimer’s Association annual research conference found that a single flu shot could reduce an individual’s Alzheimer’s risk by 17 percent. It also showed the rate of developing Alzheimer’s or other dementia was lowest among those who received consecutive yearly flu vaccines.

The lead author of the newly published research, Dr. Avram Bukhbinder, said that the researchers found the protective association between the flu vaccine and the risk of Alzheimer’s was strongest for those who received their first vaccine at a younger age — for example, the people who received their first documented flu shot at age 60 benefited more than those who received their first flu shot at age 70. Bukhbinder conducted the research while at UTHealth Houston, in collaboration with lead investigator professor Paul. E. Schulz.

At this time, it isn’t clear why the flu vaccine resulted in such a substantial reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In the study, the authors hypothesize that the vaccine might also train the immune system to respond to beta-amyloid protein plaques—a key part of Alzheimer’s pathology.

Additional research reported during the 2020 Alzheimer’s Association annual international research conference that supported these new findings:

– At least one flu vaccination was associated with a 17 percent reduction in Alzheimer’s incidence. More frequent flu vaccination was associated with another 13 percent reduction in Alzheimer’s incidence.

– Vaccination against pneumonia between ages 65 and 75 reduced Alzheimer’s risk by up to 40 percent depending on individual genes.

– Individuals with dementia have a higher risk of dying (6-fold) after infections than those without dementia (3-fold).

– People living with dementia have elevated mortality rates for 10 years after an initial infection-related hospitalization.

Those concerned about themselves or a loved one can contact the Alzheimer’s Association Central Ohio Chapter office at 614.457.6003 to schedule a care consultation and be connected to local resources that can help. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Helpline can be reached 24/7 at 800.272.3900.

About the Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®. Visit alz.org or call 800.272.3900.

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