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Getting the flu shot may lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, research finds

City of Detriot/Flickr
A flu shot is administered in Detroit in September.

With COVID-19 cases rising across the country, health officials are warning of a compounding flu season and urging Americans to get their flu vaccination. So while you may not need another reason to get your shot this year, some new research has found it may also lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. 

Previous research suggested vaccinations may protect against cognitive decline, but there hasn’t been a comprehensive study on the flu vaccine and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why researchers at the University of Texas used the health records of 9,000 older adults to see if there’s a link.

They found that even getting just one flu shot was associated with a 17% reduction in Alzheimer’s incidence, while consistently getting the shot created an additional 13% reduction.

 A separate study at Duke University found the vaccine for pneumonia decreased the incidence of Alzheimer’s by as much as 40% for those who don’t carry the risk gene for Alzheimer’s.

 The studies were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association international Conference in Chicago this summer. 

“This is exciting research in that it's pointing to: Could getting a vaccine, that helps prevent infection or other viruses, also contribute to overall brain health? said Amanda Nobrega, programs and services grants manager for the Alzheimer’s Association of Western New York. “And these preliminary studies are kind of pointing in the direction that yeah, that this is a possibility.” 

Another study also found that receiving vaccinations may be crucial for those already living with Alzheimer’s. Those with dementia have a higher risk of dying after infections than those without dementia, according to a study from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. It found that Danish residents who had dementia and visited the hospital with an infection died at a 6.5 times higher rate compared with people who had neither. 

Of course, more research is needed to study the link between the flu shot and preventing Alzheimer’s, and whether receiving a flu shot alone can lower the risk. But Nobrega said it is a promising development.

 “I think with this disease, there's a lot that it takes away from us,” she said, “and with research, that's really where we're able to take back some control and really be able to play a role in seeing if we can modify outcomes and change the quality of life for people that are living with the disease in different ways.”

Manufacturers expect to produce as many as 198 million doses of the flu vaccine this year, which would break the record of 175 million from last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.