The use of saliva steroids (cortisol and DHEA-s) as biomarkers of changing stress levels in people with dementia and their caregivers: a pilot study


Theorell T, Engström G, Hallinder H, Lennartsson AK, Kowalski J, Emami A




Sci Prog . Apr-Jun 2021;104(2):368504211019856.

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The rationale was to explore the efficacy/sensitivity of using morning and evening cortisol levels as biomarkers for stress reduction in persons with dementia (PWDs) and their family caregivers (FCGs) participating in a music intervention program.

Thirty-two PWD and their FGC were recruited to an 8-week, home-based music intervention program. Daily home-based collection of saliva samples took place at bedtime and upon awakening. Cortisol was analyzed in the morning and evening saliva samples and DHEA-s in the morning samples. Trends over 40 workdays (15–40 observations per subject) were assessed using linear regression analysis. Twenty-three PWD (72% of invited, 16 men and 7 women, age 69–93) and 24 caregivers (75%, 8 men and 16 women, age 37–90) completed the intervention for at least 6 weeks and were included in the analysis.

One-fourth of the PWD and FCG had decreasing evening cortisol, accompanied by decreasing morning cortisol levels. In one-fourth of the participants the ratio between cortisol and DHEA-S in the morning samples was improved, indicating improved balance between energy mobilization and regeneration. Several participants showed no significant endocrine change.

There was a statistically significant (two-sided test) correlation within the PWD-caregiver dyads in evening cortisol trend and a statistically significant decrease (two-sided test) in the morning-evening cortisol slope for the FCG group. Reduction in stress, as measured by evening cortisol, was observed in a substantial number of the participants. Recording endocrine stress is helpful for the unbiased assessment of the intervention.

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