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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston Student Raises Awareness and Funding for Alzheimer’s With Social Media Challenge


From right to left, UMass Boston student Casey Scarelli, her grandmother, Barbara Tondi who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and her brother, Robert.

Barbara Tondi is a second-generation Italian woman who cooked, housed, and raised her two children as a single mom. Her meatball and chicken tender recipes are guarded family lore. On Christmas, all of the extended cousins used to flock to her house and she presided as the matriarch. 

“She can’t do much on her own anymore,” says her granddaughter Casey Scarelli.

When Tondi turned 58, her family noticed some cognitive decline: little slips of memory. They took her to several appointments; finally, at age 60, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Now, four years later, her family provides her with 24/7 supervision. She needs help with everyday things, and sometimes has trouble recognizing them.

“It was so fast. It felt like every month there was a new symptom. It was terrible,” says Scarelli, a junior at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The rate of Alzheimer’s decline differs by individual, and the early-onset form can strike in a person’s 50s. Scarelli says her grandmother’s diagnosis came as a shock to her family. 

“My grandmother was young. She is young. She was in great shape. Her [sic] and my grandfather played tennis all the time, so we didn’t expect either of them to get sick.”

Scarelli is an exercise and health science major and a high school girls’ basketball coach. After graduation she plans to apply to a physician assistant program, and hopes to one day be a trauma surgeon.

She lives close to the Methuen house that has been in her family for three generations, where her mother, father, and grandfather live with Tondi. They are her grandmother’s primary caretakers, but Scarelli and her brother visit and contribute. 

“It’s definitely difficult but focusing on something positive always helps.”

In taking care of her grandmother and seeing the debilitation from the disease up close, Scarelli was inspired to spread awareness and help raise funding for Alzheimer’s. 

“We know we are not the only ones who are affected by [Alzheimer’s]. We know it’s our duty to show other people that they are not alone, and raise money for a good cause.”

Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that causes a progressive decline in memory, thinking, and behavior, and finally can result in death.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s, and there are more than 5 million Americans living with the disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the country.

There is currently no agreed-upon cause, and there is no known cure. 

Creating a Facebook page to spread a message was an easy decision for Scarelli. She had seen the success of other awareness campaigns like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and she is connected with most of her family’s friends on the social network. 

The page, which is titled “Alzheimer’s Angels,” has garnered 330 “likes” since its founding last week.

The “about” description on the page reads, “Simply get outside[,] take a picture or video of [yourself] making a snow angel[,] and nominate 5 friends. If you do it we ask you donate $10 and if not $100 [to the Alzheimer’s Association]!”

Nominees post pictures of the snow angels they’ve made to their social media sites with the hashtags “alzheimersangels” and “angelsforalzheimers.” A Twitter account for the campaign with the handle “angelsforalz” has also been created. 

The Alzheimer’s Association website says all donations go towards “help[ing] fight Alzheimer’s disease through vital research and essential support programs and services.”

For Scarelli, the concept and name behind “Alzheimer’s Angels” was personal.

“My grandmother always calls [my brother and me] her angels. She says such wonderful things to us when we help her, even though she doesn’t really understand why we are [helping her].”

Robert Scarelli, Casey’s brother, attends North Essex Community College, where he is also trying to spread awareness of his grandmother’s disease. 

“Our house was always full with people. She really held us together like glue, and that’s why we are all trying to help her out now.”