Preparing Ice and Utilizing Ice for a Brain Donation

Thank you for agreeing to donate your brain or your family member’s brain so that research can be enabled.  Brain donation is key to finding cures for many neurological diseases.  And it is the only way to obtain a confirmed diagnosis.

And thanks to families, hospice agencies, care facilities, caregivers, and funeral homes for making advance preparations for the brain donation.  Part of that advance effort is preparing some bags of ice, which will be utilized to keep the family member’s head (and therefore brain) cool until the family member can reach refrigeration upon his/her passing.

Why is there a delay in getting to refrigeration?  There are multiple possible reasons for this, including:

  • family wants to spend some time with their loved one before calling the funeral home
  • if a hospice agency is pronouncing death, it make take some time for the hospice nurse to arrive
  • it may take some time for the funeral home to arrive to pick up the loved one
  • it may take some time for the funeral home to reach a place where there is refrigeration

Note that not all funeral homes in the United States have refrigeration. (In Brain Support Network’s detailed instructions for this brain donation, we indicate if there is refrigeration at the place where the brain donation work will be performed.)


The family, hospice agency, care facility, or caregivers should prepare several gallon-size re-sealable Ziploc-type bags with ice.  The bags should be about half-full. These can be placed in a nearby freezer (at home, for example).

If hospice or a care facility is involved, the staff usually assist the family in preparation of ice bags.

If plastic bags and an ice machine are readily available, such advance preparation isn’t necessary.

Also, many care facilities or hospitals have freezer gel paks on hand.  These can certainly be used instead of bags of ice.


Upon the passing of your loved one, please call the hospice agency, if your loved one is not a resident of a skilled nursing facility.

Our condolences to the family on your loss!

(If your family member is not on hospice and not a resident of a skilled nursing facility, usually the police and the county coroner must be notified. This can delay or make impossible the brain donation.)

Ideally, your loved one should be refrigerated as soon as possible.  It could take some time for your loved one to arrive at a place where there is refrigeration.  As soon as possible after your loved one’s passing while respecting your wishes as a family, we suggest placing plastic bags filled with ice (or frozen gel packs) around the head to keep the brain cool.

Use several gallon-size, re-sealable Ziploc-type plastic bags of ice or frozen gel packs around the head.  (The bags should be about half-full.) Place the bags or packs at both temples, on the forehead, at the top of the head (as if it were a crown), and behind the head (as if it were a pillow).  There is no need to place something on the face.  Sometimes hospice staff can use a pillowcase or hand towel to discreetly hide the plastic bags/gel packs and keep them in place.

Hospice can assist with this, if hospice staff has arrived.   Certainly care facility staff can assist with this.

Once the ice is in place, have peace of mind that your loved one’s brain is being kept cool.  Spend the time you feel you need.  How much time you have is dependent on the time of day and when the brain donation work can be performed in your family’s particular case.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Brain Support Network by cell phone 650-814-0848 (accepts texts) or email.