A new study appearing in an upcoming issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity says that flu shots do not work properly in elderly patients who have experienced the death of a family member. But older adults who have a happy marriage show increased response to these shots or injections than those who are unmarried or widowed.
Hence it was concluded that marriage and bereavement "are the most key factors for older adults, rather than general life-events stress and social support, which have been related to immune response in previous studies of young adults," said lead researcher Anna C. Phillips, Ph.D., of the University of Birmingham in England. The researchers tracked 184 people aged 65 years or older and noted the antibody response after they were administered a flu shot, which conferred immunity against three strains of influenza virus. The participants were also asked to fill a questionnaire regarding the events in their life in the past one to 12 months centered on health, familial and marital relationships, housing, financial situation, and deaths of a spouse, close family members or friends. "Participants' overall stressful life events exposure was not significantly associated with the antibody response to influenza vaccination," the researchers said. "However, one particular life event, bereavement, was negatively associated with one-month antibody titer." It was found that in the 12 months before the vaccination 45 participants had suffered bereavement. At the end of one month, it was found that they had 69 percent lower level of antibodies to one flu strain than the non-bereaved participants and 83 percent lower antibodies to another flu strain. Phillips said steps such as "bereavement counseling, improving how people look after their health at different times through health education, marriage counseling and training to improve marital happiness," could help improve the immune response to the flu shots.