I have an Ancestry autosomal DNA kit that we are trying to get a 95 year old woman to take and having trouble. I provided the hints that 23andme offers to my cousin that is trying to administer the test:

If providing adequate sample volume is a challenge for you or someone you are assisting, the following may help increase saliva production:

  • Gently rubbing the outside of your cheeks
  • Making chewing motions with your mouth
  • Adding a small amount of sugar to the tip of your tongue
  • Smelling or imagining sour foods such as lemons
  • Thinking about your own favorite food

Biting or scraping your cheeks is not recommended; keep in mind that the majority of the cells analyzed in your saliva sample will not be epithelial cells from your cheeks but white blood cells that are found naturally in your saliva.

However, they have now reported back:

I worked with my mom using your list of suggestions. I think she may have produced some saliva, but she wasn't able to spit it out. She seems to automatically swallow the saliva and has nothing to spit out. I am not sure what to do. I talked with her but she doesn't seem to understand. If you have any ideas I am willing to try again if she is.

Now we could switch to cheek swab using Family Tree DNA, but I would prefer to stick with Ancestry since I get DNA circles and can transfer to FTDNA in the future.

Perhaps getting her to look down so gravity is helping as someone rubs the checks?

What other suggestions do folks have in getting saliva for an Ancestry.com DNA sample?

  • 2
    Having a towel handy is useful: gocomics.com/pickles/2016/10/03
    – lkessler
    Oct 6 '16 at 23:34
  • 1
    I think this question would be better aimed at people with some medical knowledge. That said, she may be poorly hydrated,so a glass of water some time in advance could help. Or even taking a sip of water and swilling it around her mouth for a while might produce a slightly diluted saliva.
    – AndyW
    Oct 7 '16 at 10:11
  • 3
    My opinion is that this is, strangely, absolutely on topic because its is a complaint about more than the Ancestry kit but any of the couple of services that use the spit test. Given the age of the testee I would make it a priority to get the sample and deal with transferring later.
    – CRSouser
    Oct 7 '16 at 21:13
  • Why not use hair instead ?
    – Bregalad
    Oct 31 '16 at 17:53
  • @Bregalad Ancestry.com does not offer hair. Family Tree DNA does offer cheek swab as a fallback position.
    – WilliamKF
    Nov 1 '16 at 20:27

I had my 93 year old uncle take a test after he agreed to do it.

I did not feel comfortable asking him to do it, or for me to attempt to administer it.

My uncle was at a nursing home. I asked one of the health care aids to administer it. My uncle trusted the aid and even though he was uncomfortable for a few seconds, the aid knew how to handle it and it was finished quickly.

So my recommendation is for your cousin to ask a health care professional who the woman knows and trusts to do the test for you.

This was a Family Tree DNA test, so it was a cheek swab which supposedly is easier for elderly people than the spit test of Ancestry DNA or 23 and me. But even if it was a spit test, I still would have had the health care aid do it for me.

  • 3
    BTW, we did succeed and tests results arrived 2 days ago!
    – WilliamKF
    Oct 31 '16 at 15:49

I have an easy method that I used for my 33-year-old son. He is severely autistic and can't do anything if he is concentrating on it. For the life of him, he could not spit on request. He is participating in a big clinical study and this is how they had us do it for their test: take some sterile swabs -the sponge kind, not the cottony ones. He opened his mouth and I just soaked the swab in the pool of saliva between his bottom teeth and lip, then pressed the swab against the side of the tube so it dripped down in. He filled his tube in just a few minutes and the results were good. I used the same technique for the ancestry dna so he could participate along with the rest of the family. With this method the person has to be able to make saliva, but does not have to be able to spit.


I do empathize and was at the point of thinking of returning the Ancestry kit - no fault with the kit. More my exasperation at how to get a sample and of course with consent from our mother. My mother doesn’t like to spit. So months later the penny dropped. I gave our Mam the leaflet explaining why the saliva test and asking for consent. Important also to give our Mam an unused clean plastic cup and to leave her in private to spit - did about 5 spits and then I transferred into the kit tube. I hope this helps granted of course there’s no one size that fits all.


You can use a sterile plastic spoon from any take out restaurant. The one that comes in a sealed plastic package. Use the spoon to gently scrape the individuals tongue and drip it into the tube from the spoon. This worked great for our autistic son who was unable to spit into the tube.


I watched some YouTube videos of chefs slicing lemons and that helped me produce the needed saliva for DNA testing.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.