Banner Health Services  

Should Alzheimer's patients get the flu shot

Dr. Burke  

Anna Burke, MD, is a geriatric psychiatrist and dementia specialist at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. Her office can be reached at (602) 839-6900.

Question: My grandmother was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I know the flu shot is generally recommended for seniors, but is it safe for her to get the shot as well?

Answer: Yes, it is very safe for someone with Alzheimer’s disease to receive the influenza (flu) vaccination. In fact, it may be beneficial as the vaccine can help prevent some of the typical complications individuals with Alzheimer’s experience when they become ill.

When the brain is dealing with dementia, it is already working extra hard to understand the world and function appropriately. As long as there is no additional stress, the brain can compensate for losses to some degree. However, the added stress brought about by something like the flu virus can actually make it more difficult for the brain to function properly and make sense of the world. This can result in the development of a delirium.

A delirium is a state of sudden confusion often associated with rapid cognitive and/or functional decline. In some cases, people with delirium may develop psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, agitation or even aggression.

Generally, individuals who develop delirium as a result of an illness will improve once the illness has resolved. However, they typically do not return to their same level of function.
Avoiding illness as much as possible is one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect someone with Alzheimer’s disease and reduce their risk of developing delirium. The flu vaccine is a helpful preventative tool.
 
As we age, the immune system naturally weakens. Even healthy individuals without Alzheimer’s or another form of cognitive impairment risk serious complications from flu.
 
I suggest that your grandmother schedule and appointment with her primary care physician to receive the flu shot at her earliest opportunity. Prevention is key when it comes to protecting the brain. 
 

Page Last Modified: 10/05/2011
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