Is there a saliva test that can detect Alzheimer’s disease?

Shraddha Sapkota, a graduate student at the University of Alberta, has identified a simple way to screen for early stages of Alzheimer’s disease by analyzing an individual’s saliva.

For the study, Sapkota and other researchers analyzed saliva samples using special technology to measure protein levels. These results were then matched with the individuals’ medical records.

Some of those in the study had already received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment, and these individuals had higher levels of certain proteins in saliva. Thus, the study indicated that higher protein levels may be predictors for the disease in its early stages.

Physicians usually screen individuals for Alzheimer’s or dementia through a number of tests, which can sometimes be unreliable or invasive. And, medical imaging tests, such as an MRI, which is used to identify the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain, are often costly. Spinal taps, used to detect high levels of certain proteins in cerebrospinal fluid, can also be a risk for individuals who are frail and elderly. Written assessments that evaluate cognitive function may not always be effective for distinguishing the early stage forms of the disease.

The saliva screen test needs more research, but it could assist with some of the challenges in diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Early detection allows medications to be started before the disease has progressed and have been known to preserve cognitive function. And some research has shown the best outcomes when medications are started before symptoms actually manifest.

The Alzheimer’s Association 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report only 45 percent of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s were told of the diagnosis by their doctor. One of the reasons doctors do not disclose it, research suggests, is because physicians have insufficient time to provide support to the affected individuals or caregivers. Extending the time between diagnosis and the onset of symptoms could significantly change the situation.

Contact Dana Territo, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.