The National Institute of Aging is funding a six-month, double-blind clinical trial in the hopes of finding further evidence that nicotine therapies can significantly improve memory loss in dementia patients. The $9.4 million study will take over two-years to complete and involved some 300 older adults suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Current statistics indicate that approximately 75 percent of patients with MCI will eventually develop either dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and nicotine therapies may be helpful in the slowing of the onset of associated short-term memory loss symptoms.
The study will be led by Dr. Paul Newhouse of the Center for Cognitive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and focusses primarily on transdermal nicotine therapies like “the patch.” However, many medical professionals are also considering vaping technologies as another potential delivery method. The Newhouse study is a continuation of previous nicotine research by the neurological specialist, including a 2012 study published in the National Library of Medicine involving a smaller sample group of 74 memory-impaired patients.
Overview of the Newhouse study on nicotine and dementia
Like the 2012 study, those participants involved in the new project will be asked to wear nicotine transdermal patches for 16-hours per day, but a percentage will be secretly prescribed placebos. The patients will have no idea who is using the real thing, and they will only be allowed to remove the patch during periods of sleep. Meanwhile, the scientific team will be monitoring brain functions and structure through conventional MRI technologies, and computer cognition testing will take place every six months.
While the researchers will be interested to learn if nicotine therapies improve memory loss symptoms related to dementia, they are equally curious as to whether nicotine changes the predominate brain structure in any significant way. Notes Newhouse in a Vanderbilt press release, “People think of (nicotine) as a potentially noxious substance, but it’s a plant-derived medication just like a lot of other medications.”
Newhouse’s previous research shows a 46 percent gain in age-adjusted long-term memory loss. Those who did not undergo the nicotine therapy witnessed a 26 percent decline over the same duration of time. Newhouse has also experimented with intravenous nicotine therapies as far back as the 1990s, but the rise in popularity and easy accessibility of vaping and transdermal options may boost memory performance to even higher levels than previously imagined.
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