Questions and Answers on Brain Donation

Some typical questions which families have about brain donation are:

1.             Will brain donation disfigure the body?  No.  The examination is performed like a surgical procedure under the supervision of a pathologist.  There is no difficulty with an open casket.  There is minimal delay that should not affect funeral preparations.

 2.             Does the entire body have to be examined?  No.  The examination may be limited to the brain only.  This is sufficient to enable us to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.

 3.          Will brain donation delay the funeral?  No.  The examination is done as soon as we are notified about the patient’s death.  The procedure is completed within hours, and we work with the funeral directors in order to expedite transportation of the body from the medical center to the funeral home for services.

4.  4             What does it cost?  Brain autopsy is free of charge.  We will provide the family with a report of the findings.  Generally, because of the microscopic examinations, results are available in about 3 months.

5.               What is done with the tissue once it is removed?  The first procedure is to analyze the tissue to establish an accurate diagnosis.  The definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease requires pathological examination of brain tissue.   In addition to pathological diagnosis, there is research value from the tissues examined to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.  Understanding the processes that causes degeneration and the loss of chemicals from the brain can, in turn, aid in the development of new drug treatments.  Brain tissue may also be stored for future research needs.

The Taub Institute and Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Columbia University and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center are able to perform an essential research procedure to learn about memory disorders:  brain autopsy or brain donation.  This service is offered to patients, unaffected volunteer controls, study participants, and others who qualify. 

Brain donation allows valuable information to be obtained regarding aging or the disease process in your deceased loved one.  One benefit is the more definitive pathological diagnosis that this examination enables.  Another benefit is the research value from the tissue to researchers at our institution and nationwide.   Analysis of brain tissue increases our understanding of normal aging and brain disorders.  It contributes towards the intense efforts by our center and others towards the goal of developing more effective treatment strategies.

We would be glad to discuss the brain donation program with you personally.  Many people want to have this procedure performed to confirm the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.   Others wish to participate for the benefit of research:  it is an important contribution that extends the research done by scientists at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain.

If you or a family member wishes to discuss the procedure further, please call Mrs. Arlene Lawton, Autopsy Coordinator at 212-305-9086, Monday to Friday, from 9AM to 5 PM.  E-mail Mrs. Lawton at

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