An estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an older adult is diagnosed with the disease every 67 seconds. While researchers continue to work to discover how to prevent Alzheimer’s, finding better ways to diagnose the disease is also important.
Currently, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is a process of elimination. Physicians test a senior they suspect might have some form of dementia for other illnesses that can mimic the disease, such as a urinary tract infection, a vitamin B12 deficiency or depression.
One new diagnostic tool currently showing promising results in the early research stages is a saliva test. Researchers think it might be a way physicians can identify the presence of Alzheimer’s disease in an older adult.
The Alzheimer’s Saliva Test Project
Scientists from the University of Alberta, Edmonton shared the results of their project at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Washington, D.C. last July. Here’s how the study worked:
- Researchers compared the saliva of 22 people already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease against salvia from 25 people with mild memory loss and 35 people with what was considered to be normal memory for their age.
- Participants with Alzheimer’s disease showed higher concentrations of certain substances in their saliva than those with healthy brains or mild cognitive impairment.
- Researchers believe these substances are linked to metabolic changes that may take place in the brain during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Progress on Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s
As many families already know, obtaining a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be a long and stressful process. By the time a senior receives a diagnosis, the damage to the brain has already occurred.
Using saliva is an easy, non-invasive way to test for memory loss. It is also less expensive than other methods currently being used which can range from spinal taps to an MRI.
Early diagnosis holds many benefits for seniors and their families. They include:
- Time to plan for the future and make their wishes known. The senior will have the opportunity to voice their desires in decisions related to senior living options, how they want future care needs handled, and other important legal concerns.
- An early diagnosis also gives an older adult time to consider participating in a clinical trial or to try out medications that have been shown to help alleviate some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Much more research is needed to determine whether or not saliva test can be an effective means of diagnosing Alzheimer’s. We will continue to follow this research and share any updates we find here on the Five Star Senior Living blog.