NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Memory loss is a crippling disease, with an estimated 5.8 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) said they may have a tool to slow memory loss. Turns out, it’s also found in cigarettes.
“People, when they take nicotine in this patch form, their attention improves, their memory improves,” said Dr. Patricia Andrews, a geriatric psychiatrist.
Andrews is part of a years-long study at VUMC called the Memory Improvement through Nicotine Dosing (MIND) Study to determine whether the use of nicotine over time can improve safely improve memory and functioning in those who have been diagnosed with mild memory loss or mild cognitive impairment, which is the stage just before dementia.
“This study is the largest and longest. This is two years,” Andrews said. “We’re hoping that their systems of memory get better, or that the progression to dementia slows down.”
Participants have to be at least 55 years old, show early signs of memory loss, and be willing to check in with doctors every few months. Researchers believe exposure to these small amounts of nicotine over time can essentially jump start the brain’s memory receptors.
“The nicotine goes and particularly attaches to those receptors to create all that cascade of networking, and make those networks of memory and attention work…it’s pretty easy, it’s pretty cheap, and very well tolerated. It has very few side effects,” Andrews explained.
According to Andrews, nicotine in this form is not dangerous to your health like smoking a cigarette: “In a cigarette you get thousands of toxins. You get the tar that blocks all your airways and you get lung cancer. And you have all the damage from the smoke.”
However, the doctor urges you not to assume smoking cigarettes will improve memory loss because it’s actually the opposite. Smoking has been shown to increase your risk for Alzheimer’s.