Most people only have to contract the flu once to be convinced that skipping a vaccination the next season isn’t a good idea. Cheers to those who choose to avoid the flu, or at least sidestep a full assault, by getting vaccinated before contracting and spreading it.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu season runs through the fall and winter months, usually increasing in October to a peak from December to February. However, the virus lurks during the rest of the year, too, and flu season can extend well into spring.
A defense against dementia
During the 2019-2020 flu season, an estimated 38 million people became ill from influenza. Approximately 400,000 were hospitalized, and 22,000 died. These are terrible numbers, but they are slightly better when compared with the previous two seasons: During the 2018-2019 season, 34,200 people died, while 61,000 died during the 2017-2018 season.
Understandably, our focus during the 2020-2021 season has shifted a bit. Of course, the healthcare community hasn’t stopped warning the public about the flu, but COVID-19 has been prioritized. The CDC hasn’t stepped back from its stance on the flu vaccine, either, and now there’s an added incentive to be vaccinated — and not just for the flu virus, but also for pneumonia.
Recent research indicates that aside from helping to protect against the flu and pneumonia, these vaccines also provide a shield against Alzheimer’s disease. The vaccines lessen the risk of developing dementia, according to three separate studies announced during last year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.
Skipping a flu vaccine increases risk
Imagine the news that a vaccine that seniors should already be taking each year could affect future cognition.
And regarding infections, a sad detail emerged from the studies. People with dementia have twice the risk of death following infections when compared with those without some form of dementia.
But there was encouraging news in the studies, too. Researchers found that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease was reduced by 17% by getting just one flu vaccination. Accounting for individual genes, the risk of Alzheimer’s for those 65 to 75 was reduced by up to 40% with the pneumonia vaccine. This drives home the increased importance of scheduling a flu vaccine every year for both older and younger adults.
Early vaccinations reduce risk later in life
Research indicates that the earlier the first flu vaccine is received, the more protected one is from Alzheimer’s disease. That person would benefit more than someone who receives a first shot later in life.
Researchers do stress the importance of conducting more studies on the relationship between flu and pneumonia vaccines and a reduction in the risk of dementia, but for now, the research is promising.
In addition to flu vaccines protecting against dementia, researchers also found that people who were 65 to 75 and received the pneumococcal vaccination had a 25-30% reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The study indicates that being vaccinated for both flu and pneumonia had a greater effect on lowering risk at that age range.
Researchers are calling for more studies on the connection between Alzheimer’s risk-reduction and pneumococcal and influenza vaccinations. However, what we already know should be enough incentive for people to get vaccinated every flu season. These shots defend against the flu and pneumonia, both of which are capable of taking us out of this world.
Possible prevention against cognitive decline later in life should drive anyone to be vaccinated. This is especially true for those of us who have a parent or close family member who has Alzheimer’s disease. Without a cure, we should take every opportunity that could reduce the risk of contracting the life-altering disease.
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.
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