Skip to content

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Nicotine Patch May Improve Memory in Pre-Dementia Patients

Small Study Shows Significant Benefits in Memory
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 9, 2012 -- People with mild memory loss, often an early warning sign of future dementia, may get help from an unexpected source: nicotine patches.

A new study published in the journal Neurology shows that wearing a nicotine patch improved the brain performance of such adults.

The study, which the authors acknowledge was a small one, involved 45 men and 29 women. The average age of the group was 76, and just over half were former smokers. Each of them showed signs of early memory loss, but their symptoms were not severe enough to qualify for a diagnosis of dementia.

Dementia is an umbrella term for certain brain disorders involving problems with memory and thinking, including Alzheimer’s disease.

The participants were divided into two groups. For six months, one group wore 15-milligram nicotine patches, while the other was given a placebo. Each patient took memory and brain function tests at three separate times: one at the beginning of the study, another halfway through, and a final test at the study’s conclusion.

By the end of the study, the patients who had worn the nicotine patches were better able to pay attention, and they also demonstrated better long-term memory than patients who didn’t use the nicotine patches. 

“The patients improved enough that they noticed the difference,” says researcher Paul Newhouse, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. “Their doctors noticed the improvements, too, but not as much as their patients.”

Nicotine, the addictive ingredient in cigarettes, appears to provide increasing benefits the longer it is taken. Newhouse says he and his team noticed a small effect a week into the study. By the three- and six-month marks, that effect had grown substantially.

“It seems that the effect grows over time,” says Newhouse. “I was quite pleased with that finding.”

Unanswered Questions

Neuroscientist Joshua Grill, PhD, says the study shows good results, but larger and longer studies will be needed to determine whether nicotine will improve more than just memory. Grill, who reviewed the study for WebMD, points out that the study showed no improvement in more extensive functioning -- the ability to perform everyday activities. He is also concerned about safety.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
 
Close up of eye
12 culprits that affect your ability to focus.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
 
senior man
Article
brain research briefing
Article
 
Syringe
Article
Vaccine and needle
VIDEO
 
mans hands on laptop keyboard
Article
brain illustration stroke
Slideshow
 
most common stroke symptoms
Article
Parkinsons Disease Medications
Article