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Research Highlights

Pilot clinical trial shows nicotine patch may improve cognition in older people with memory loss

A nicotine skin patch may improve cognition in older people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition marked by memory loss that often leads to Alzheimer’s dementia, according to findings from a small pilot clinical trial reported in the Jan. 10, 2012 print issue of Neurology. Nearly 70 volunteers, all non-smokers, wore either a nicotine patch or a placebo patch during the six month trial supported by the NIH. Researchers measured the volunteers’ cognitive performance at the start, at three months and at the end of the trial. They found the nicotine group showed significantly improved cognition during tests of mental speed, attention, and memory, and that the nicotine patch was safe to use for the trial period.  Additionally, the nicotine group participants reported improved cognition, which was also noted by their caregivers.  While the results of this small pilot trial were promising, the findings are not definitive and further investigation of a nicotine patch treatment for MCI in larger studies is warranted. Paul Newhouse, M.D., now of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, led the trial while at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, both parts of NIH at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Newhouse P., et al. Nicotine treatment of mild cognitive impairment: a six-month double-blind pilot clinical trial. Neurology January 10, 2012 78:91-101.

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