Author and West County native Stefania Silvestri recently released a book she hopes will help families dealing with Alzheimer's and dementia.
"Beside the Mountain: Finding Strength and Courage Through My Father’s Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease" is Silvestri's first hand account of watching her father succumb to the disease and its affect on her family. At age 14, her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when he was only 48. She, her sisters and their mother, became his caregivers.
"I had no idea that this brain disease, that Alzheimer's Disease, could affect my dad. I had no idea that my dad would become become so childlike at the end," Silvestri tells Patch. "My mom didn't know who she was taking care of. Was it a son or a dad?"
Her father died at the age of 54 at Bethesda Meadows in Ellisville. Growing up in Chesterfield, Silvestri attended Parkway Central High School and Mizzou before receiving her MFA in Creative Writing, Nonfiction from Emerson College in Massachusetts. This book won the Dean's Award for Best Thesis, a non-fiction award from Emerson College.
Silvestri hopes her book will not only help build awareness about the disease, but also help children who suffer as a result of Alzheimer's and dementia.
"The initial goal was to share my father's story and was to raise awareness that early onset of the disease affects young people and how difficult it is for a young family to go through it," Silvestri explains. "So it offers hope to their families and teenagers as well."
In her book, Silvestri shares a very vivid account of her father’s devastating decline and the impact it had on almost every aspect of her life. According to Silvestri, her father's memory worsened as she went through middle and high school. She said her behavior became worse as her father's condition declined. She turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism, and suffered from depression, but eventually turned the direction of her behavior.
"I drank some, self mutilated, cutting. All of that I did , while my dad was getting sicker. He would try to father me and he couldn't," Silvestri explained. "Once I found out how bad he was going to get, by reading about the stages of his decline, I really decided to change because I never really knew how irreversible this is."
Silvestri also shares the strength of family bonds and sibling love, the details of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease and the effects of the parent/child role reversal.
"I also learned how strong a family unit can be. My family has become much closer because of all that. And that's been one true thing that I can count on," Silvestri tells Patch.
Although she now teaches in California, Silvestri remains close with her family and will be back in the St. Louis area for the holidays.
“Ultimately I want this book to show people they are not alone,” adds Silvestri in a news release. “Early onset Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease but we don’t have to let it ruin our lives. If we come together, hopefully we can one day find a cure.”
Visit stefania-silvestri.com for more details on the book or Silvestri's story.
"Beside the Mountain: Finding Strength and Courage Through My Father’s Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease" is available online, including on Amazon.com as paperback or e-book.