Flu and Dementia: Who is Most Susceptible to the Flu?
It has been recognised that those aged 65 and over are at greater risk of developing complications from the flu since immune defences become weaker with age. According to the CDC, it has been estimated that 70-90% of flu-related deaths have been among those aged 65+. As a result, the flu in elderly people should be treated seriously. According to Public Health England, 2018 saw three times as many flu-related deaths compared to 2017. This led Public Health England to class 2018 as the worst flu outbreak since 2010-11. Figures from the NHS show that 2017-18 saw 15,000 deaths from the virus – which is around twice the average figure. The flu is a highly contagious virus, passed through airborne particles and droplets, which then affects the respiratory system. Flu season runs from October to March, and what makes the virus so dangerous is the fact that the flu virus is a variable that changes yearly. No single vaccination can protect you from all the strains. The worst flu epidemic in history took place in 1918, claiming the lives of 40-50 million people, which is over half of the UK’s present-day population.
Why Can the Flu Affect People Suffering From Dementia More?
What’s even more worrying is that in 2015, the fatality rate for dementia patients who had received ineffective flu jabs increased. A Medscape study revealed that those with dementia are twice as likely to die from flu. Those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may require live-in care and specialist care services specific to their illness and are more susceptible to certain illnesses, therefore creating a cause for concern.
If you are looking after someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, here’s five things to take into consideration for patients during the flu season:
1. Their immune systems are weakened
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by plaques of protein (known as amyloid) building up in the brain, resulting in a loss of connection between the nerve cells of the brain which in turn kills the brain cells. The creation of the plaque is triggered by the immune system, and due to the imbalance of chemicals and lack of receptor in the brain, the immune system cannot effectively work to its full potential. This means that those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia are more susceptible to smaller illnesses that a stronger immune system can fight off, as the receptors that help their immune system may be damaged or dead.
2. They run a higher risk of complications
Due to the weakened immune system of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, the combination of dementia and the flu puts them at a higher risk of the flu turning into more severe illnesses. Also, the flu can cause further behavioural issues in both Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, leading to them requiring more complex care to help them overcome their illness.
3. They’re more susceptible if access to care is limited
It is common knowledge that Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients require more specialist care, albeit home care, live in care services or domiciliary care. Something as simple as showering, washing hands and eating a healthy and balanced diet can help prevent the flu, which is why it is so important that they have access to the right care. If patients are not living in specially equipped care homes or sanitised homes that do not have easy-to-clean ergonomic surfaces, they will be more susceptible to viruses. They may forget to treat the early symptoms of the flu and lose track of the medication that should be taken.
4. The flu vaccination is the most effective preventative
As no strand of the flu is ever the same, there is not one single vaccination that can prevent you from getting the flu. Studies have shown that the vaccination is 50-60% more likely to prevent flu however, there is still a chance of contracting the flu. The flu vaccination is the most effective way to prevent contracting the flu, and if it doesn’t interfere with the patient’s medication or put them in a life-threatening situation, it should be considered.
5. There are other preventative measures
Although there is no solid way of stopping Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients from contracting the flu, there are ways it can be prevented. Washing your hands, regularly changing your clothes and sanitising and cleaning everything will help to stop germs and bacteria spreading, therefore reducing the risk of flu.
If you suspect that a loved one for family member is suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, or you are looking at home care support for someone with these diseases, please contact one of our regional teams today. Our team of specialist healthcare professionals based across England are willing to help, thus ensuring that you or your loved one can be looked after from the comfort of their own home this flu season.