Former 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: Alzheimerâs disease.
Shortly before this yearâs Super Bowl, Kapp revealed that he had been diagnosed with the progressive brain disease. Alzheimerâs 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 Alzheimerâs 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 Alzheimerâs and Dementia
Brain tissue donations are very important for research into dementia. Currently, the only way to definitively diagnose Alzheimerâs 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. Itâs also very difficult to examine a brain in a living person.
With Alzheimerâs 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 Alzheimerâs disease are very important for future research. Researchers still donât understand the causes of Alzheimerâs 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 peopleâs risk of Alzheimerâs.
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 Alzheimerâs 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 familyâs 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 thereâs a big shortage of donations for these purposes. Many people donât realize that even if they donât have brains with Alzheimerâs disease, donating them can still help with dementia research, because they act as a control. Because of this shortage, Alzheimerâs 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 familyâs desired funeral home.
Each brain donation allows for many research opportunities, as only very small pieces of tissue are needed for study. With Kappâs commitment to donate his brain for Alzheimerâs research, scientists will have several more opportunities to look for cures for this common and devastating disease.
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Sources for Todayâs Article:
âBrain Donation,â The Association of Frontotemporal Degeneration web site, http://www.theaftd.org/life-with-ftd/participate-in-research/brain-donation, last accessed February 23, 2016.
âBrain Donation FAQs,â Alzheimerâs Disease Center web site, http://www.bu.edu/alzresearch/education-resources/brain/, last accessed February 23, 2016.
âBrain tissue donations,â Alzheimerâs Society web site, https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=116, last accessed February 23, 2016.
Raguse, Lou, âFormer QB Joe Kapp has Alzheimerâs, will donate his brain for research,â Kare11 web site, February 09, 2016, http://www.kare11.com/sports/fmr-qb-joe-kapp-has-alzheimers-disease-and-will-donate-his-brain-for-research/37105997, last accessed February 23, 2016.
Walsh, Paul, âViking Super Bowl QB Kapp has Alzheimerâs, is donating brain,â Star Tribune web site, February 08, 2016, http://www.startribune.com/viking-super-bowl-qb-kapp-has-alzheimer-s-is-donating-brain/368036231/, last accessed February 23, 2016.