By Stephanie Stahl


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new study is getting underway to determine if a patch used to help people stop smoking might also improve memory. There is currently no FDA-approved medication to treat memory loss, which often happens as people age.

While there’s a lot of research underway looking for new therapies, one treatment might be something already being used to treat a dangerous addiction.

More than 8 million Americans have mild cognitive impairment, a condition that affects memory and other thinking skills. It’s often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

There’s preliminary evidence that nicotine patches might be able to help.

“Nicotine stimulates parts of the brain that are important for memory loss and seem to be involved in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other similar conditions,” said lead researcher Dr. Paul Newhouse. “We think that nicotine may act to actually enhance the activity of those systems in a way that makes people’s attention and memory sharper.”

Newhouse is the national director of the MIND study — that stands for Memory Improvement through Nicotine Dosing. It’s the largest and longest running study of its kind, testing a nicotine patch — the same thing that’s used to help people stop smoking.

“One of the advantages of using a patch is that it gets around all the negative effects of inhaling, so there’s no addiction liability, there’s none of the lung damage that we see with smoking or vaping,” Newhouse said.

A preliminary study with 74 patients found using a patch showed improvements.

“We found that nicotine enhanced memory and attention functioning in those patients, with no significant or serious side effects. And we were able to convince the NIH that this was really worth testing in a much larger sample in a national study,” Newhouse said.

Researchers are recruiting 300 volunteers over the age of 55 at 29 sites around the country.

Locally, the nicotine study is being done at Lehigh Hospital and Hershey Medical Center, and while it might be tempting to try this on your own, doctors say that’s not advised.

For more info on the study, click here.

If you are interested in participating, contact Andrew Orzel, with the Lehigh Valley Hospital, at andrew.orzel@lvhn.org or call 610-402-8447.

For the Hershey Medical Center, email Leonard Kishel at lkishel@pennstatehealth.psu.edu or call 717-531-0003 extension 289860.

Stephanie Stahl