Brain Autopsy to Confirm Alzheimer’s

My family decided to have a brain autopsy performed after my mother’s death.  We wanted to be sure that her thirteen year struggle with dementia was definitely from Alzheimer’s, and we also felt donating to further Alzheimer’s research was the right thing to do under the circumstances.  The results we received were overwhelmingly conclusive.  My mother did in fact have Alzheimer’s disease.  While we all knew this and it certainly came as no surprise, I was still greatly saddened to see the cold, clinical terms presented impersonally on a white sheet of paper as if my mother was just another statistic.  She wasn’t just another Alzheimer’s victim to us obviously, and this autopsy report reads like a tragic love story of tormenting tangles and painful plaques leading to a heartbreaking finale.  Here are the highlights from the brain autopsy confirming my mother’s diagnosis of “consistent with Alzheimer’s disease with a high likelihood.”

1)      High likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease (the highest rating on a scale of 3 from low, intermediate, to high by NIA-Reagan criteria method – high means Braak tangles in stage V or VI and CERAD plaque grade of frequent)
2) and 3) Subacute Infarcts (evidence of stroke was found, but according to the autopsy these happened within the last couple months of  life and didn’t cause the dementia)
4)   Diffuse arteriolosclerosis – hardened and narrowed arteries all throughout brain likely from long-term high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels

Braak tangle stage VI (the highest stage on a scale of 6, meaning the most tangles seen for Alzheimer’s), CERAD plaque grade frequent (the highest of 3 grades – infrequent, moderate and frequent)

Gross Description:
Brain weight 970 grams (normal brain weight for women is 1265 grams, so 23% of brain weight lost to atrophy)

Question for discussion:  Do you think you would want or need a brain autopsy to confirm Alzheimer’s disease after the death of a loved one?

Image courtesy National Institute on Aging
Brought To Our Senses family saga novel by Kathleen H. Wheeler

2 thoughts on “Brain Autopsy to Confirm Alzheimer’s

  1. Carol Wright

    I would like an autopsy done, simply because the doctors have been so wrong about so many things. Mom was on a bladder control med for perhaps ten years, maybe longer. I saw ads for it on TV and thought…she doesn’t have those Sx. We try without…so if not work, we have more pee. We can get her back on it. After a week, she started to be curious about her surroundings. Several days later, I asked her if she noticed a difference in herself, and she launched into a lucid speech, which I videotapes. See my channel …
    Several changes in meds have brought major improvements (when she has gone off them)…or total insanity…and nobody is responsible. total impunity.
    if only we could back up a dozen years…lost.

  2. Kathleen H. Wheeler Post author

    Carol, thanks for your comments. I agree the brain autopsy was just peace of mind for me after the unwinnable war of Alzheimer’s. I also experienced the pain of watching my mother become more confused and demented after many, many medications were forced to pacify her because she was so hostile and uncooperative. I also thought my mother appeared relatively normal until the doctors took over in the nursing home, then suddenly she became absolutely crazy after medication. It was a vicious cycle of drugs for many years until Mom finally became so lethargic that medication was no longer needed to control her any longer.

    I briefly checked out your blog and videos and will have to spend some more time later reviewing it further, but I know you are in the most difficult part of Alzheimer’s. That difficult time lasted for four years for me, and I know how emotionally and physically draining it is. It is hard for you to see it now, but I will answer your question in your blog title “When does the glad start?”

    One day you will be glad that you cared for your mother through all the difficulties and anguish, and you will move on to happiness in your own life. And you will have learned many things from the experience to use as you finally move forward towards your own goals. My heart and prayers go out to you. Good luck with the rest of your mother’s journey.


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