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Duke Research Aims To Patch Memory Loss

Posted December 3, 2003

— We laugh at memory lapses, called "senior moments," but they really are not that funny. This mild form of memory loss can affect daily life.

New research from Duke finds that the same treatment that helps smokers kick the habit may also boost memory.

When James Faulcon took his elderly mother to a doctor for memory tests, he was the one who failed.

"I couldn't pass some of the tests that the doctor was giving her," he said.

Faulcon enrolled in a Duke study to see if nicotine patches -- the same ones used to quit smoking -- make people more alert and help improve memory.

Although the study was small, the results are promising. Most patients noticed improvements in their memory and attention.

"What we hope that will do is translate into functional improvements so that people can actually function better in their daily lives," researcher Dr. Heidi White said.

With the help of nicotine patches, Faulson was finally able to pass his memory test.

"I could tell that I was doing better at the time. I thought it was a tremendous amount of change," he said.

Researchers said do not run out and buy patches just yet.

"It's not ready for prime time. We're still investigating the safety and efficacy," researcher Ed Levin said.

Nicotine raises blood pressure and heart rate, so researchers still need to see if patches are safe for long-term use.

Faulcon hopes they are and said he will try just about anything to boost his memory.

"Anything that would help, I'd be in favor of it," Faulcon said.

Researchers are not encouraging people to smoke, either. Some of the other ingredients in cigarettes have been proved to actually harm memory. If nicotine proves effective and safe the goal is to use nicotinelike drugs that have the same effect without side effects.


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