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Researchers have found the use of nicotine patches could prevent the deterioration of brain cells and slow down the progress of Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists, whose results were published in the 'Neurology' journal, said the results of a trial on 74 patients with mild cognitive impairment suggested the patches could "slow mental decline".
Nicotine patches slowly release the chemical into the bloodstream and are used by smokers who are trying to quit, in order to get the familiar "hit" of nicotine.
However the scientists found the nicotine played a key role in activating nerve cells which are important for memory and learning.
The people involved in the study, which was carried out at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, showed an increased attention span and mental function.
Dr Paul Newhouse, who led the study, said: "People with mild memory loss should not start smoking or using nicotine patches by themselves, because of the harmful effects of smoking and a medication such as nicotine should only be used with a doctor's supervision."
'But this study provides strong justification for further research into the use of nicotine for people with early signs of memory loss."
"We do not know whether benefits persist over long periods of time and provide meaningful improvement."
Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This looks promising. We hope it can help in developing therapies."