New Ways to Prevent Memory Loss

A recently-completed study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging seems to indicate that nicotine may help prevent the decrease in memory that people experience with Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, Dr. Paul Newhouse gave each member of the study group one of two patches: either a nicotine patch (used by people who are trying to quit smoking) or a patch that did nothing (the “placebo” patch). The people in the study were chosen because they showed signs of mild cognitive impairment, one of the early stages of Alzheimer’s, when the receptors in the brain start to degrade. The researchers wanted to see if they could prevent some of this degradation.

The initial results of the test were promising; the people who used the actual nicotine patch showed improved memory and attention span when compared to those people using the placebo. According to the researchers, the nicotine stimulates the receptors in the brain because it mimics acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter normally present in a healthy brain. The study cautions that people who are trying to increase memory in general should not take up smoking because of the negative health impacts of smoking, nor should anyone start using nicotine patches without a doctor’s supervision.

Dr. Newhouse has been encouraged by the results of this six-month study, and plans to initiate a longer study with more participants to see if this might be a way to slow or prevent the damage to nerve cell receptors before a person’s mild cognitive impairment develops into dementia.

The results of the study were published in the journal Neurology on January 10, 2012. To learn more about the research sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (part of the US Department of Health & Human Services National Institutes of Health), including those related to studying the effects on memory of Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and regular exercise, click here.