Flu, pneumonia shots associated with lower likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease

Getting vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia is associated with lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to newly-released research.

The studies were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Research Conference.

“People who got at least one flu shot had a 17% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s,” Ana Nelson of the Alzheimer’s Association National Capital Area Chapter said of one of the studies.

More frequent flu vaccination was associated with another 13% reduction in Alzheimer’s.

Nelson said the study examined medical records of 9,000 people at least 60-years-old and split them into two groups based on whether they’d ever received a flu shot.

While it may be that people who are diligent about getting vaccinated might​ also take care of themselves in other ways, resulting in a cumulative effect to reduce Alzheimer’s risk, Nelson said each study group shared similar health-related factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Those are known risk factors for Alzheimer’s.

“They even looked to see how many prescriptions people received, just to make sure that people who got the vaccine were not healthier overall,” Nelson said.

While Nelson emphasized what she called “very, very interesting” study findings, she added, “We do need to do more research to understand what the connection is.”

Pneumonia vaccine and Alzheimer’s risk was also evaluated.

A second study released at the conference suggested that people 65 to 75 years old getting vaccinated against pneumonia reduced Alzheimer’s risk by up to 40%, depending on individual genes.

Nelson said the two studies’ findings are encouraging and speak to the need to explore the benefit of vaccines in not only protecting against viral and bacterial infections, but also in how they may improve long-term health outcomes.

“The vaccines for the flu and pneumonia may be protective because the two diseases that they were designed to prevent are known to affect the brain and every time people have one of those infections — they may experience challenges with their memory and thinking,” she said. “And, a number of [previous] studies have suggested that these types of events, especially repeated events over time, might increase someone’s risk for Alzheimer’s.”

Steps you can take right now to help improve brain health include exercise, not smoking, sleeping well, challenging your mind by playing strategic games and staying socially active.

To help stay informed about rapidly evolving science related to Alzheimer’s and dementia, you can download the Alzheimer’s Association Science Hub app.

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