Alzheimer's hits close to home for an MU neurologist

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COLUMBIA — More than five million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer's disease, according to data provided by the Alzheimer's Association. As November marks national Alzheimer's awareness month, one local neurologist who specializes in dementia said the disease has had a tremendous impact on his life.

Dr. Raghav Govindarajan, assistant professor of Neurology at MU, said he chose to study the brain after his grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's, which is a form of dementia.  

"I remember seeing her when I was a child. She could do what she wanted to do. She cooked cleaned, took care of  the home, took care of me," Govindarajan said.

By the time he was 15, Govindarajan said, his grandmother started losing her memory and the symptoms progressed over time.

"I remember in the final days she didn't know who we were, and I was her favorite grandson and she couldn't recognize me anymore. She couldn't recognize herself, she would just sit there and stare," Govindarajan said.

Data from the Alzheimer's Association shows nearly one in three seniors dies with the disease or another form of dementia.

Govindarajan said, besides the physical and emotional impact of the disease, there is also a big financial burden. 

"The total cost of care taking is currently $260 billion, and by 2050, it will be $1 trillion," Govindarajan said.

The local Alzheimer's association in Columbia organizes events throughout the year to raise money for research and provide care for individuals affected with dementia.

The Alzheimer's Association projects 110,000 people in Missouri will suffer from Alzheimer's in 2016.

The group's Greater Missouri Chapter offers a variety of resources to 58 counties in Missouri, including support groups, educational programs, fundraising events, and a 24/7 helpline for patients and their families. 

"One thing we really promote for our caregivers and persons with dementia is taking a break, taking rest time for themselves," said Amanda De La Mater, the program and education specialist for the Greater Missouri Chapter. 

De La Mater said most of the research on Alzheimer's has been performed in the past 10 years, so the world is still trying to understand the disease.

"I always encourage people to talk to their neighbors, talk to their friends, the more people understand, the more people living with dementia will be supported and accepted, as well as their families," De La Mater said.

Govindarajan said researchers are currently testing new drug therapies to fight the bad proteins thought to cause Alzheimer's. 

"I am hopeful that in the near future, we will have some treatment, but we have a lot of work ahead of us," Govindarajan said.