Ask Oz and Roizen: Why You Need a Flu Shot and the Dangers of Gun Ownership With Dementia

Learn what the experts have to say on these important topics.

Ask Oz and Roizen: Why You Need a Flu Shot and the Dangers of Gun Ownership With Dementia

Q: My eight-year-old daughter and I got our flu shots and then got sick anyway. I think next year we’ll skip it. What’s the use?
— Carolina B., New York, NY

A: It’s not fair to blame the flu vaccine. There are several viruses out there that are not influenza: respiratory syncytial virus (or RSV), rhinovirus, croup and the common cold. You may have had one of those common infections and your flu vaccine may be protecting you and your daughter even now. Plus, it has many remarkable benefits—including, but not limited to, preventing the flu or lessening its impact.

For example, a recent Danish study found that kids who experience a bad enough infection to require hospitalization are at an 83 percent higher risk of developing a mental disorder and a 42 percent higher risk of using psychotropic medications. The flu qualifies as one of those potentially hospital-serious infections. You want to help your child dodge those risks for sure! And we wonder… could that be related to another study from the UK that identified a rise in anxiety among British children, where many kids don’t receive flu vaccines?

Adults are also at risk if they skip the shot—and a survey shows over half of all adults are not currently vaccinated against the flu, and four in ten don’t intend to get vaccinated. That’s a shame. A 2013 study of randomized clinical trials published in JAMA showed that “influenza vaccine was associated with a lower risk of major adverse cardiovascular events… The greatest treatment effect was seen among the highest-risk patients with more active coronary disease.”

So, young and old, remember the saying: “For want of a horseshoe nail, the kingdom was lost.” It means if you ignore first steps, one thing leads to another, until the end result is not what you want. The same thing can be said about skipping your flu shot. It’s not too late to get yours.

Q: My dad has a rifle, a shotgun and a few pistols. He’s 82 and was a competitive marksman back in the day. But I just heard about a healthcare worker who was shot by an 80-year-old in her care. She’d been with him five days a week for several months. Should I ask him if I can have his guns? 
— Jack K., Seattle, WA

A: As our population grows older, the problem that comes along with the combination of dementia and guns needs attention. Forty-five percent of people 65 and older have guns in their household, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, while nine percent of Americans 65 and older are diagnosed with dementia—and many others suffer from reduced cognition and mobility issues. The combination has become such a problem that a non-profit Alzheimer’s volunteer group in San Diego has decided not to send volunteers into homes with weapons after discovering that 25 to 30 percent of the households their “helpers” visited had guns.

Security is one of biggest reasons why people own guns. But when older people start to experience cognition and other physical challenges, imagined threats can seem all too real. Remember the episode on The Sopranos in which Junior (Dominic Chianese) walks into the kitchen and shoots his nephew Tony (James Gandolfini) while he’s making pasta, thinking he’s an intruder?

An article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine voiced doctors’ concerns about the risk of suicide by gun owners with dementia. According to the CDC, the suicide rate in the US is highest among those 65 and older, and firearms are the most common method.

AARP suggests families draw up an advance directive (sort of a healthcare proxy) for a firearm retirement date. Another suggestion is to put any ammunition under (your) lock and key. So, now that you’re armed with this information, sit down with your dad and have a frank discussion about his guns.

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