THE QUESTION Research has indicated that smokers may have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Might nicotine patches offer memory benefits, too?
THIS STUDY involved 74 people who averaged 76 years old and had mild cognitive impairment. All were nonsmokers, though some had smoked at some point in their lives. They were randomly assigned to wear a transdermal nicotine patch (15 milligrams daily) or a placebo patch. After six months, a battery of standardized tests given periodically to test memory and thinking skills revealed improvements in attention, memory and psychomotor skills among those who wore the nicotine patch. On average, they regained 46 percent of what is considered normal long-term memory for their age, whereas long-term memory for those who wore the placebo patch declined an average of 26 percent. Side effects did not vary between the nicotine and placebo groups.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older adults with mild cognitive impairment, which is considered the stage when people may have minor memory issues typical with aging but they do not have dementia, which entails varying degrees of disability.
CAVEATS Whether the findings apply to smokers was not determined, nor were different nicotine dosages tested. The study was not long enough to assess whether nicotine slowed the progression from mild cognitive impairment to dementia. The study included a small number of participants. Nicotine patches were provided by Pfizer; three of the 10 authors had received fees from Pfizer or other pharmaceutical companies that make nicotine patches, and one author had received fees from a tobacco company.
FIND THIS STUDY Jan. 10 issue of Neurology (www.neurology.org).
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.