"They might repeat themselves, tell the same thing several times over or not remember something they've been told," he explained, "or make a mistake in calculations for their checkbook."
Their losses in cognitive function were beyond those of normal aging, he added.
After testing cognition and memory at the start of the study and again at three and six months, the researchers found that those who used the real patches did better in terms of attention and memory, although the differences weren't huge and their doctors didn't notice them. The nicotine patch group regained 46 percent of their long-term memory loss, while the placebo patch group saw a 26 percent further decline in memory loss. Also, "people subjectively thought they were doing better," Newhouse said.
The only consistent side effect was weight loss, he said, and it's not clear if that stabilizes over time.
The participants who got the real patches didn't suffer withdrawal symptoms when they went off them, Newhouse said. "There's no worries about becoming dependent on it or wanting to take nicotine even though you shouldn't take it."
The patches seem to boost memory by affecting the brain's chemicals and allowing a person to pay attention more easily, he said. "Attention is necessary for memory to work."
However, Newhouse said he can't recommend the nicotine treatment for memory loss at this time. "If you want to think about it, discuss it with your physician," he said.
Jennifer Rusted, a professor of experimental psychology at Sussex University in England, said the study was well done but it doesn't address the effectiveness of using nicotine patches in the long term. Also, Rusted said, there's debate about who should qualify as having mild cognitive problems in studies like this one.
As for the idea of taking nicotine patches to keep sharp mentally, she said that "realistically, the benefits even in this carefu
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