Alzheimer’s Sufferer Joe Kapp Will Donate Brain for Dementia Research

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Marchione_240216Former quarterback Joe Kapp led the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl ever back in 1970, but now the 77-year-old is suffering from the most common form of dementia: Alzheimer’s disease.

Shortly before this year’s Super Bowl, Kapp revealed that he had been diagnosed with the progressive brain disease. Alzheimer’s is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., and it causes a gradual loss of memory, cognitive function, and motor control.

Concussions are one of the biggest risk factors for developing dementia. As a football quarterback, Kapp took plenty of hard hits throughout his career; he admits that he was knocked out frequently while playing in the NFL.

Like many other former football stars, the concussions Kapp sustained over his career are thought to be a major contributing factor to his Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, Kapp is taking action to help combat brain damage and dementia. The retired star has announced that he will be donating his brain to neurologists at the University of California, San Francisco. Kapp hopes that, by studying his brain, researchers can learn more about dementia and help pave the way for future treatments or preventative care.

Brain Tissue Donation Is Important for Studying Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Brain tissue donations are very important for research into dementia. Currently, the only way to definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s disease is through autopsies of the brain. The brain is an incredibly complex organ, and there is still a lot that is unknown about its functions and the diseases that affect it. It’s also very difficult to examine a brain in a living person.

With Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, much of the information we currently know comes from research using brain tissue donations. Researchers can better analyze what occurs in the brains of people with these diseases, as well as compare them to healthy brains.

Because of this, brain tissue donations from both people with and without Alzheimer’s disease are very important for future research. Researchers still don’t understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, nor are there any known treatments, cures, or even medications that can slow the progression of the disease.

Researchers also use brain tissue donations to investigate links between the disease and symptoms people experience, as well as certain lifestyle factors. Brain donations from football players are used by researchers to help pinpoint how concussions raise people’s risk of Alzheimer’s.

Brain Donation vs. Brain Autopsy

Brain donations are different than brain autopsies, although many people mix up the terms. A brain autopsy is when the brain is dissected and analyzed specifically to determine a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (or another form of dementia). These are done for the family members of the deceased, to give them closure and to help them determine their own risk of developing the disease. Since these autopsies are done for the family’s own benefit, they also have to cover the costs.

With a brain donation, on the other hand, the brain is being studied by researchers to help with possible cures and treatments for the disease. Different research programs may provide a diagnostic report to families, but the main purpose of a brain donation is to assist in scientific research. There is usually little or no cost for brain donations.

Brains for Dementia Research (BDR)

Brain donations are crucial for research into dementia, but unfortunately there’s a big shortage of donations for these purposes. Many people don’t realize that even if they don’t have brains with Alzheimer’s disease, donating them can still help with dementia research, because they act as a control. Because of this shortage, Alzheimer’s organizations are starting initiatives to encourage people to donate their brains. In the U.K., the Brains for Dementia Research (BDR) initiative is aimed at convincing people to donate their brains and making the process easier. BDR hopes that by working with families and making brain removal as non-intrusive as possible for the family of the deceased, they can see an increase in the number of donations made.

What to Expect When Donating Your Brain

To reduce the impact on a mourning family, brain donations are preferably not discussed soon after the death of the donor. Instead, research centers typically sign people up for brain donations ahead of time, either early after their diagnosis or well before they are suffering health problems. This allows researchers to take a detailed look at medical forms and to make important arrangements for when the patient passes away, so that the researchers can receive the brain as soon as possible and return the body to the family’s desired funeral home.

Each brain donation allows for many research opportunities, as only very small pieces of tissue are needed for study. With Kapp’s commitment to donate his brain for Alzheimer’s research, scientists will have several more opportunities to look for cures for this common and devastating disease.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Brain Donation,” The Association of Frontotemporal Degeneration web site,, last accessed February 23, 2016.

“Brain Donation FAQs,” Alzheimer’s Disease Center web site,, last accessed February 23, 2016.
“Brain tissue donations,” Alzheimer’s Society web site,, last accessed February 23, 2016.
Raguse, Lou, “Former QB Joe Kapp has Alzheimer’s, will donate his brain for research,” Kare11 web site, February 09, 2016,, last accessed February 23, 2016.
Walsh, Paul, “Viking Super Bowl QB Kapp has Alzheimer’s, is donating brain,” Star Tribune web site, February 08, 2016,, last accessed February 23, 2016.

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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »