Tuesday, October 20, 2009

H1N1 Flu Shot, Alzheimer's and Dementia -- Our Decision on the Shot

The facts in this case are that the H1N1 flu virus is spreading fast, and we really haven't seen anything like it. If you watch the 60 Minutes video you will understand what I am saying.

As an Alzheimer's caregiver, I have to decide whether or not my mother will take the shot.

Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Many Alzheimer's caregivers are trying to decide whether or not their loved one should get the N1H1 flu shot.

In addition, it seems that many elderly people are reluctant to get the shot, believing that the standard flu shot they have received is "good enough."

It is now clear that the N1H1 flu is a world wide pandemic, and the number of cases of the N1H1 flu are rising dramatically worldwide. The United States is no longer immune.

Yesterday I wrote two stories about the H1N1 flu. I suggest you read them to get up to date on the H1NI flu virus and the current situation.

2009 H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) Situation Update

60 Minutes H1N1 is Spreading Fast and Can Be Fatal (Video and Text Versions)

These stories indicate the seriousness of the situation, and the risk you might be taking by avoiding the shot.
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In graduate school I studied risky decision making for 4 years. I came to understand how people make risky decision. I also came to understand how people put off making a risky decision if they can -- this is often the easiest thing to do.

Often risky decision are a result of cultural values.

For example, when a newly licensed 16 year old drives fast and recklessly, he is considered to be cool by his peers.

When that same 16 year old is 40 and married with a couple of kids, when he drives fast and reckless he is considered to be an idiot by his peers.

Another example of risky decision making occurs when a person can "diffuse" the responsibility. How many times have you heard a young person defend themselves by arguing that their friends did the same "dumb" thing. This rarely holds water. If you do a bad thing it doesn't become a good thing because other people did it.

I can see that many elderly people are talking to each other and deciding they won't get the H1N1 flue shot. Safety in numbers here. If Mary isn't getting the shot, then I won't get the shot.

The problem with this kind of decision making is that the conclusion is not based on an examination of the facts.

The facts in this case are that the H1N1 flu virus is spreading fast, and we really haven't seen anything like it. If you watch the 60 Minutes video you will understand what I am saying.

As an Alzheimer's caregiver, I have to decide whether or not my mother will take the shot.

This decision is complicated by several factors. Nobody knows if the shot it likely to worsen her Alzheimer's. There isn't any history to go on in this case.

I already know from my own research and talking to hundreds of caregivers that when an Alzheimer's patient gets an infection they usually drop down the Alzheimer's staircase. I also know from discussion and my own experience, when a person falls down the Alzheimer's staircase, they can't get back up to the step they were on.

See -- Infection Can Hasten Alzheimer's Memory Loss

Here is another fact that is on my mind. People born before 1950 are at the lowest risk for the N1H1 flu virus.

It appears that H1N1 has its seeds in a virus that first appeared in 1918. As a result, people that were exposed to those viruses are at lower risk.
"There were similar viruses circulating in the 1930s and the 1940s. And therefore people who were born before 1950 have antibodies, have a protective immune response against such a virus, against the novel H1N1 virus," he explained. "And therefore the older people are better protected against the novel H1N1 virus than are young people."

"You lose that protection if you're born after what year?" Pelley asked.

"About 1950," Palese said.

After reading this my first reaction was -- my mother doesn't need the flu shot.

I then mentioned this to our personal care physician. She said, what if those antibodies in your mother died. Yikes. I had not considered likelihood. This is what I call looking beyond the obvious when making a decision.

I should also mention here that the virus that appeared in 1918 killed 50 million people. 50 million.

The N1H1 virus can travel about ten feet. If you get within 10 feet you have been exposed to the virus. This alone worries me.

By now you get the idea that I have been reading-up before making the decision. I have come to a a conclusion.

If my mother gets the N1H1 flu virus, I am convinced it will send her spiraling down the Alzheimer's down staircase, maybe to the last couple of steps. If she get the nasty pneumonia that can come with N1H1 it could end up killing her.

Too much risk for us. We will be getting the shot. Keep in mind, I have to get the shot to help insure that I am here to care for my mother. You might want to consider this also.

If you read this far, I am not recommending that you get the H1N1 flu shot. I am recommending that you look at the facts, and then decide what is best for you.

I also recommend that you send the articles I listed above to your friends. There is not a great deal of information available on H1N1 at the moment. Much of the information that is circulating by word of mouth is less than factual.

You know as well as I do that most people are resistant to change. Taking the N1H1 flu shot is about accepting change. This is not so easy to do for most people.

Bottom line? The best way to make a decision is to examine the facts and then decide. The worst way to make a decision is to arrive at your decision because the person that lives next door to you decided, by the seat of their pants, not to get the shot.

If the flu strikes the fact that your friends didn't take the shot either is not going to be a good excuse.

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Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The Alzheimer's Reading Room is the number one website on the Internet for news, advice, and insight into Alzheimer's disease. Bob has written more than 800 articles with more than 18,000 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, Alzheimer's Reading Room

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