Researchers say that nicotine could be valuable in combating a condition known as late-life depression.
Some older people with late-life depression (LLD) do not fully respond to antidepressant medication, and the authors of a new study say that “nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) agonists” (including nicotine) may work as therapy for these individuals.
The condition, which affects those over age 60, is characterized by lower mood and poor cognitive performance. Nicotine’s benefits as a cognitive performance enhancer are well known, and according to the study’s authors, animal studies suggest that the drug “can improve depressive behavior in animal models and improve mood in depressed individuals.”
The authors propose future clinical trials that could determine whether nicotine (delivered via transdermal patches like the popular NRT product Nicoderm) would be beneficial for those suffering from LLD.
The three authors are all from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, and include Paul Newhouse of Vanderbilt’s Center for Cognitive Medicine, who has done considerable research on nicotine. In 2008, he showed that non-smoking ADHD patients who wore a nicotine patch were better able to perform several cognitive tasks than patients wearing a placebo patch.
In 2015, Newhouse began doing research on reducing memory loss in older adults with mild cognitive impairment using nicotine patches.