AARP Eye Center
A flu shot may do more than keep you from getting a fever and fatigue. Accumulating research shows that the annual vaccine could pack brain health benefits as well.
Researchers from UTHealth Houston analyzed data from nearly 936,000 patients age 65 and older who received an influenza vaccine and an equal number of individuals who didn’t. They found that over a four-year period, those who had at least one flu shot were 40 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than their unvaccinated peers.
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What’s more, the protective effect was higher among people who got the vaccine routinely. “In other words, the rate of developing Alzheimer’s was lowest among those who consistently received the flu vaccine every year,” lead study author Avram S. Bukhbinder, M.D., said in a statement. Overall, 5.1 percent of flu-vaccinated patients developed Alzheimer’s disease over the study’s four-year follow-up; the prevalence was 8.5 percent for patients who skipped the shot.
The new findings, set to be published Aug. 2 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, builds on previous research, also out of UTHealth Houston, that found having at least one flu vaccine was associated with a 17 percent reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s. Those results were presented at the 2020 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.
How might the vaccine be connected to Alzheimer’s?
Experts have yet to identify what could be causing this association between the flu vaccine and a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s — a disease that affects more than 6 million Americans. There are, however, a few theories. One centers on the immune system and the role it may play in the development of the brain disorder.
“Since there is evidence that several vaccines may protect from Alzheimer’s disease, we are thinking that it isn’t a specific effect of the flu vaccine,” said study coauthor Paul E. Schulz, M.D., a professor of neurocognitive disorders at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.