Nicotine & Memory


POSTED: Monday, January 9, 2012 - 3:40pm

UPDATED: Monday, January 9, 2012 - 3:41pm

Study finds nicotine patches may help older adults overcome mild memory loss.

People may start using the nicotine patch for something other than giving up smoking.

There's new evidence it could boost brain power.

Vanderbilt University's Dr. Paul Newhouse led a study of non-smoking adults, most of whom were in their mid-70s.

They all had mild cognitive impairment, a condition that's a bit more than typical "senior moments" but not quite bad enough to be diagnosed as dementia.

Those who wore a nicotine patch for six months did better on tests of memory and thinking skills, while those on a placebo patch did progressively worse.

"We think that nicotine can directly stimulate cells in the brain that are helpful for attention and memory," Dr. Newhouse says.

Although more studies are needed, there were no side effects or signs of nicotine addiction or withdrawal even after a year.

"Everything we've seen so far suggests that the benefit is sustained over time," Dr. Newhouse adds.

Researchers say those benefits do not mean people should start treating their own memory malfunctions with nicotine in patch or cigarette form.

Outside experts say the new research is promising, and a necessity.

"A real crisis in this country is the fact that Baby Boomers are turning into the age of risk for Alzheimer's disease. Just last year the first wave of Baby Boomers turned 65," notes the Mayo Clinic's Dr. Ron Petersen.

Drug maker Pfizer supplied the nicotine patches for the study, but had no other involvement.

The study was sponsored by the National Institute On Aging.

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