[A version of this item appears in: Dementia: the Latest Evidence Newsletter (RWHT), Volume 2 Issue 6, January 2012].
Nicotine patches may improve mild memory loss in older adults experiencing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) i.e. the earliest symptoms of dementia. These patches appear to offer a cognitive enhancement.
Treatment with nicotine patches (15 mg per day) over six months seems to improve how well people with MCI perform on tests which assess memory, attention and response times. The nicotine-treated group regained 46% of normal performance for age on long-term memory, while the placebo group showed a deterioration of 26%.
Note: These findings (which are not statistically significant) are from a small study of just 74 people over a limited period of six months, so the results are not conclusive. It is not clear whether these benefits would last over time or provide meaningful improvements to prevent further mental deterioration. Longer and larger research studies are needed.
Caution: The health risks of smoking probably outweigh any potential benefits of nicotine for memory loss. Nicotine is known to be addictive. On the other hand, there are few known serious side effects for the people using nicotine patches. Proper medical advice should always be sought.
Roberts, M. (2012). Nicotine ‘may aid memory for in early dementia’. London: BBC Health News, January 10th 2012.
Full Text Link (b) (Note: Access to this article online requires a journal subscription or payment).
Newhouse, P. Kellar, K. [and] Aisen, P. [et al] (2012). Nicotine treatment of mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month double-blind pilot clinical trial. Neurology, January 10th 2012, Vol.78(2): pp.91-101.