As if there weren’t already reason enough to get the flu shot each and every year you’re eligible — namely, that it reduces not only your own risk, but others’ risk of getting seriously ill or dying of the flu — two new studies presented this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggest that getting the flu shot may also protect people from Alzheimer’s, too.
A team of researchers based at the University of Texas found that people over the age of 60 who’d received at least one flu shot had a 17 percent reduction in risk of Alzheimer’s. People who got regular flu shots (meaning once a year, most years) saw an additional 13 percent reduction in risk. Albert Amran, the study’s author, told NPR, “More vaccinations meant less Alzheimer’s.”
The second study, from a team of researchers based at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, found that people who received a pneumonia vaccine before the age of 75 were 25 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. (The pneumonia vaccine is typically administered to people under age 2 or over age 65, though smokers and people with certain medical conditions may be vaccinated as younger adults.) In this case, the researchers noted, people who also got the flu shot didn’t see an added protection beyond the benefit offered by the pneumonia vaccine.
It’s unclear why these vaccines might offer protection against Alzheimer’s disease, though scientists believe it may be because both the flu and pneumonia are also known to affect the brain. But the studies provide important counterevidence to the still pervasive myth that getting a flu shot increases a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s — it may, in fact, be the opposite.