Nicotine patch may alleviate 'senior moments'

December 03, 2003

DURHAM, N.C. - The nicotine patches that help smokers quit might also boost the recall of seniors with the mildest form of memory loss, according to results of a preliminary clinical trial on 11 people conducted at Duke University Medical Center. While nicotine itself has not been approved for long-term use, the research could point the way toward other nicotine-like drugs that might improve memory without the side effects of nicotine, according to the Duke researchers.

Previous research conducted by the Duke team and others has found evidence that nicotine might benefit people with a variety of disorders -- including schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer's disease. However, the latest study is the first to examine the drug's effects on people with age-associated memory impairment (AAMI), a common condition among older people characterized by so-called "senior moments."

In a small sample of seniors, the researchers found that four weeks of nicotine treatment halved decision times on a standardized test of memory and increased participants' ability to focus their attention - a skill critical for learning and memory. While receiving nicotine, seniors' assessments of their own memories also showed small but significant improvement.

"In folks with relatively minor changes in their memory and thinking, there was some improvement with nicotine skin patches in the areas of attention and their general perception of their own memory," said Duke geriatrician Heidi White, M.D. "We hope that will translate into treatments that allow people to actually function better in their daily lives."

White and nicotine researcher Edward Levin, Ph.D., also at Duke, report their findings in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychopharmacology (currently available online). Pharmacia, Inc. donated the nicotine and placebo patches.

The researchers emphasize that, despite the possible benefits of nicotine, the results should not encourage smoking. They also caution that nicotine patches have associated health risks - including nausea, dizziness, and increases in blood pressure and heart rate - and have not been approved for long-term use.

"While the results are encouraging, seniors should not try nicotine skin patches until larger studies testing the efficacy and safety of their use have been conducted," Levin said.

Eleven participants over the age of 60 with AAMI completed the 10-week, double-blind clinical trial. Each senior wore a nicotine patch for four weeks and a placebo patch for an additional four weeks separated by a two-week resting period.

Clinicians monitored participants eight times over the course of the study to measure their medical condition and performance on three standard tests of memory:

The researchers reported that participants' perceptions of their own memories were significantly improved after four weeks on the nicotine patch compared to the placebo patch, with more seniors receiving the drug reporting a small improvement in memory. While on the placebo patch, seniors on average reported no memory change.

The four-week nicotine patch treatment also cut seniors' decision times from approximately 200 milliseconds to less than 100 milliseconds and significantly improved the consistency of participants' performance on tests of reaction time, an indication that nicotine heightened attention in individuals with AAMI.

Participants reported only mild side effects of the patch treatments including skin irritation and nausea.

Nicotine's activity in the brain stems from its ability to mimic the natural chemical acetylcholine, a nerve signal that plays a role in learning and memory among other functions, said Levin.

"Although nicotine isn't naturally present in the body, the receptors that respond to it are," he said. "The results of this study suggest that when used appropriately and under the right conditions, nicotine may alleviate the symptoms of mild forms of memory loss. In addition, such treatment may even attenuate the decline in memory function as people age."

The Duke team and their colleagues at the University of Vermont and Georgetown University have received funding from the National Institute on Aging to pursue the benefits and safety of nicotine patches for the treatment of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a slightly more severe form of memory loss than AAMI. Patients with MCI are at increased risk for developing the dementia characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.

Duke University Medical Center

Related Memory Articles from Brightsurf:

Memory of the Venus flytrap
In a study to be published in Nature Plants, a graduate student Mr.

Memory protein
When UC Santa Barbara materials scientist Omar Saleh and graduate student Ian Morgan sought to understand the mechanical behaviors of disordered proteins in the lab, they expected that after being stretched, one particular model protein would snap back instantaneously, like a rubber band.

Previously claimed memory boosting font 'Sans Forgetica' does not actually boost memory
It was previously claimed that the font Sans Forgetica could enhance people's memory for information, however researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, have found after carrying out numerous experiments that the font does not enhance memory.

Memory boost with just one look
HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have published results showing that targeted transcranial electrical stimulation during slow-wave sleep can improve metamemories of specific episodes by 20% after only one viewing of the episode, compared to controls.

VR is not suited to visual memory?!
Toyohashi university of technology researcher and a research team at Tokyo Denki University have found that virtual reality (VR) may interfere with visual memory.

The genetic signature of memory
Despite their importance in memory, the human cortex and subcortex display a distinct collection of 'gene signatures.' The work recently published in eNeuro increases our understanding of how the brain creates memories and identifies potential genes for further investigation.

How long does memory last? For shape memory alloys, the longer the better
Scientists captured live action details of the phase transitions of shape memory alloys, giving them a better idea how to improve their properties for applications.

A NEAT discovery about memory
UAB researchers say over expression of NEAT1, an noncoding RNA, appears to diminish the ability of older brains to form memories.

Molecular memory can be used to increase the memory capacity of hard disks
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have taken part in an international British-Finnish-Chinese collaboration where the first molecule capable of remembering the direction of a magnetic above liquid nitrogen temperatures has been prepared and characterized.

Memory transferred between snails
Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro.

Read More: Memory News and Memory Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to