Nicotine patches may ease mild cognitive impairment, according to a new study in the journal Neurology. Study participants showed improved attention plus improvements in secondary measures of attention, memory and though-processing speed. But the research did not demonstrate a significant difference between nicotine and placebo on overall improvement.
The study was conducted with 74 non-smokers with amnesic mild cognitive impairment, who were randomly assigned to receive either nicotine patches or placebo patches for six months. Amnestic mild cognitive impairment is characterized by measurable impairment in memory without obvious functional disability. It may represent an intermediate stage between normal aging and mild Alzheimer’s dementia. Alzheimer’s is associated with a deficiency of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which sends signals between nerve cells by binding to specific receptors.
The nicotine-treated group experienced weight loss, more adverse events and more discontinuations due to adverse events, but there were no sever adverse events, and overall, the nicotine patch appeared to be safe and relatively well-tolerated by the participants.
While these results are encouraging and justify further research into the potential therapeutic use of nicotine in mild cognitive impairment, it is important to bear in mind that this is a small, preliminary study. It does not establish whether nicotine has any effect on disease progression rather than symptoms.
Most importantly, this study should not be misconstrued in any way to suggest that people with mild cognitive impairment should smoke (smoking is clearly hazardous), or use nicotine patches on their own.