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Cigarette smoking may delay the development of the devastating brain disorder Alzheimer's disease, a study suggested Friday.

A study involving 198 Alz-heimer's patients found those with family histories of Alzheimer's who smoked appeared to tend to develop dementia symptoms later than non-smokers, researchers reported in the British Medical Journal.In addition, when the researchers compared the Alzheimer's patients with 198 non-Alzheimer's patients they found the Alz-heimer's patients were significantly less likely to have smoked.

"The risk of Alzheimer's disease decreased as the number of cigarettes smoked daily increased," researchers Cornelia van Duijn and Albert Hofman wrote in the report sponsored by Research on Aging, the European Community's dementia research group, and a Dutch science organization at Rotterdam's Erasmus University Medical School.

"We observed a strong inverse relation between smoking and Alz-heimer's disease. The association was restricted to patients with a family history of dementia," they said.

The researchers stressed that the findings should not be interpreted to suggest that Alzheimer's disease patients should smoke.

Dr. Leonard Berg, an Alz-heimer's expert at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., said more research was needed to explore the issue.

"A few patients with Alz-heimer's may benefit temporarily in some of their symptoms from a dose of nicotine. That hasn't been confirmed, but we have preliminary reports about that," Berg said.

"Nicotine is certainly not a great treatment for Alzheimer's, but it may do something for some symptoms for some of patients," he said.

Nicotine may help alleviate Alzheimer's symptoms by stimulating the brain system affected by the disease, helping compensate for the disorder's destructive process, he said.