According to preliminary findings from a small study presented this past Steve Moye salivaweekend at the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in DC, saliva could help with early detection of developing Alzheimer’s.  Saliva could be used to differentiate between people who age normally, those with Alzheimer’s and patients with mild cognitive impairment, which could lead to Alzheimer’s.

Early detection of Alzheimer’s has remained a challenge, since the disease still isn’t entirely understood.  But being able to identify Alzheimer’s in its early stages before a patient begins to experience deterioration of their cognitive function could lead to earlier intervention by providers.  Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada studied 22 people with the disease, 35 undergoing normal aging and 25 with mild cognitive impairment.  They were also able to make a distinction among the three groups studied through using chromatography-mass spectrometry, which analyzes saliva samples that discovered links between cognitive ability decline and the higher levels of certain substances.

When compared with a lot of other body fluids, saliva is easily-obtained, safe and affordable, with promising potential for predicting and tracking cognitive decline.  Yet according to study leader Shradda Sapkota, this study is just an early stage of understanding the role of saliva, and there’s plenty more work needed.  The possibility of using saliva to find targets for treatment to address the metabolic component of Alzheimer’s is equally important, yet according to Sapkota, this study is a step to solving this still-unknown mystery.  Current diagnosis of Alzheimer’s still relies on identifying symptoms of cognitive decline in a patient.  Unfortunately, by the time a patient starts to exhibit symptoms, the disease may have already progressed to more advanced stages, rendering treatments geared toward slowing the effects less effective.

Calls for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s have grown louder in recent years as the number of Americans with the disease has increased; according to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are estimated to be more than 5 million cases in the US.  Without significant breakthroughs that lead to viable treatment, experts say that Alzheimer’s prevalence will continue to increase as the country’s elderly population rises.  According to new analysis presented at the AAIC, it’s predicted that more than 28 million baby boomers are expected to develop the disease between now and 2050, which is expected to consume $328 billion by 2040, nearly a quarter of all Medicare spending.