A new skin patch could improve inattention in some stroke patients, new research says.

Researchers say that the drug rotigotine works by stimulating receptors on nerve cells for dopamine. The test trial was conducted on 16 patients who had recently suffered from stroke on the right side of the brain. Within a week, patients on rotigotine performed better on attention tests than patients who were given placebo.

Inattention may be due to hemi-spatial neglect, which occurs in patients who've suffered damage on one side of the brain. If the right side of the brain is damaged, then the person may be unaware of what's happening on the left side. This condition is common in people who've had stroke and there is no current therapy to treat it. Inattentiveness cause by hemi-spatial neglect can be so severe it prevents stroke patients from living a normal, independent life.

“Inattention can have a devastating effect on stroke patients and their families. It impacts on all aspects of their lives. If the results of our clinical trial are replicated in further, larger studies, we will have overcome a major hurdle towards providing a new treatment for this important consequence of stroke," Professor Masud Husain who led the study at the Institute of Neurology at University College London.

Previous research has shown that rotigotine was effective in treating early-stage Parkinson's disease.

Researchers say that the discovery could help other patients as well.

“Milder forms of inattention occur in other brain disorders, across all ages - from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to Parkinson’s disease. Our findings show that it is possible to alter attention by using a drug that acts at specific receptors in the brain, and therefore have implications for understanding the mechanisms that might cause inattention in conditions other than stroke," Husain said.

The study was published in the journal Brain.