Smoking Patches for Memory

Nicotine patches improve cognitive impairment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) While nicotine patches are typically used to quit smoking cigarettes, doctors use them in research to stimulate cognitive development.

Available through the journal Neurology, scientific investigators believe nicotine patches may help improve mild memory loss in older individuals.

"If suffering cognitive decline, do not smoke cigarettes."

Paul Newhouse, M.D., professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, co-authored the study. Dr. Newhouse and his team looked upon past studies to note the benefits of nicotine on cognitive impairment in those quitting smoking as well as in short-term Alzheimer’s studies, wondering if nicotine could be used for those with mild cognitive impairments.

The investigators analyzed seventy-five people of average age seventy-six, all with cognitive impairment, and all nonsmokers. While half the participants received a fifteen-milligram nicotine patch each day, the other half received a placebo, and all participants took tests on memory and thinking skills at the beginning, three-month, and six-month point of the study.

The findings suggested that the patients who used nicotine patches regained some cognitive performance. While the placebo group worsened an average of twenty-six percent, those on a daily nicotine regime regained forty-six percent of the normal long-term memory performance associated with their age.

Dr. Newhouse warns that this study does not suggest picking up a pack of cigarettes. "People with mild memory loss should not start smoking or using nicotine patches by themselves, because there are harmful effects of smoking and a medication such as nicotine should only be used with a doctor's supervision,” the doctor adds.

“But this study provides strong justification for further research into the use of nicotine for people with early signs of memory loss. We do not know whether benefits persist over long periods of time and provide meaningful improvement.”

The National Institute of Health holds studies suggesting nicotine patches for age-related memory impairment dating back to 2003. A six-week study of eleven subjects found that nicotine patches sustained memory improvements in subjects during the study as well as increasing attention.

Talk to your health care provider about nicotine patches for age-associated memory loss.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 5, 2012
Last Updated:
January 9, 2012