The nicotine patch, designed to aid smokers in their quest to quit, has a unique side-effect according to recent studies. As it turns out, older adults with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, actually find their memory improving thanks to the patch.
The clinical trial involved 67 non-smokers with MCI. Half of the patients wore a nicotine patch that delivered 15 milligrams of nicotine into their bloodstream per day. The other half wore simple placebo patches. The study was double-blinded, meaning that neither patients nor researchers knew during the study who was receiving the nicotine or the placebo.
After 6 months, patients treated with nicotine patches performed 46% better than average on memory tests, while placebo patients performed 26% worse. Dr. Paul Newhouse, lead author of the study:
“We’re pretty excited that we got a strong sign of improvement, and we think it has great implications going forward, […] We reasoned that if it (nicotine treatment) helps in early Alzheimer’s, we might be able to move back even further into patients with mild memory loss,”
MCI is something of an in-between (or preview for things to come) between normal aging and dementia. People with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Nicotine stimulates the parts of one’s brain involved in learning and memory, parts that die off under the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Peter Whitehouse, one of the pioneering scientists in using nicotine to treat patients with Alzheimer’s is one part skeptical, one part hopeful about the implications of such research:
“The jury’s still out on whether nicotine is disease-modifying, But there’s never going to be one single silver bullet. We’re going to have to treat patients with a complex brain disease with multiple approaches.”
Maybe it’s time for me to quit smoking and invest in some patches. Then maybe I wouldn’t lose every pair of sunglasses after a week of owning them.
What do you think of this study? Seems a little far-fetched, but could nicotine patches work long-term to treat memory loss?