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Could Nicotine Patches Help Stave Off Memory Loss?
Date:1/9/2012

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Jan. 9 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that the nicotine patches used by people trying to quit smoking could serve an unexpected purpose: They appear to counteract mild memory loss in older patients.

The research is preliminary and only involved a few dozen subjects. There's also the matter of expense: While they're available over the counter, patches may cost several dollars a day.

Still, "nicotine treatment may be a way to improve people's symptoms and maybe extend their ability to do all of those cognitive things we need to do," said study author Dr. Paul Newhouse, director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "We're hoping to pursue this with a much larger group."

This isn't the first time researchers have tried to analyze connections between the brain and nicotine. In the 1980s, Newhouse and others discovered through autopsies that the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease lacked certain "receptors" that help the brain's chemicals work properly, he said. While their job in the brain isn't to deal to nicotine, these receptors do respond to it.

The experiences of smokers seem to confirm the connection between nicotine and brain function, Newhouse said. "If people smoke a cigarette, they will tell you they can pay attention better."

However, it appears that nicotine isn't a huge help if someone already has a well-functioning ability to pay attention, he said.

In the new study, researchers recruited 74 nonsmoking seniors with mild cognitive problems and watched what happened to 34 who received treatment with nicotine patches (15 milligrams a day) and 33 who got placebo patches for six months. Another seven didn't finish the study.

The people in the study weren't in bad enough shape to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. However, they did have moments of memory loss that the people
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