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Nicotine patches 'reverse cognitive impairment'

Using a nicotine patch leads to improvement in patients with mild cognitive impairment, a US study has found.

Researchers examined 74 non-smoking patients with mild cognitive impairment – defined as a decline in cognition and function which does not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of dementia. The average age of participants was 76. Some 39 participants received 15mg of transdermal nicotine each day for six months, while 35 were given a placebo.

After six months, the treatment group had regained 46% of normal performance for their age on long-term memory. The placebo group had worsened by 26%.

The treatment group also showed significant improvements in attention and psychomotor speed, and in patient ratings of cognitive impairment. But there was no statistically significant effect on clinician-rated global improvement.

There were a total of 82 adverse events in the nicotine group and 52 in the placebo group – but none of these were severe. No withdrawal symptoms were reported after the study.

Study author Dr Paul Newhouse, professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, said: ‘This finding provides strong justification for further treatment studies'.

Neurology 2012; 78: 91-101

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