The Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America® (OSDIA) is the largest national organization for people of Italian heritage in the U.S. Since making the Alzheimer’s Association one of their philanthropic partners in 1995, they have given more than $1.7M to the Association to fund research. Arlene Nunziati is the OSDIA Alzheimer’s Association chair.
Arlene didn’t find OSDIA as much as she was born into it — her mother was the founder of their local San Mateo, California lodge. “It’s a lifelong community, “Arlene says. “I have wonderful childhood memories of picnics, dinners, and a softball team my father Mario coached — everything family-oriented.” Through OSDIA, Arlene has been able to make her passion for creating Alzheimer’s awareness a reality in honor of her late father, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2010. “I wasn’t able to be as involved in the Alzheimer’s cause while caregiving for Dad alongside my mom,” she says. “But now I’m able to give back and commit time to something so close to my heart.”
Giving Back to Families Like Mine
Arlene knows the benefits of Alzheimer’s and dementia educational materials, including information about what to expect after an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis — and she wants to ensure that families know about the resources available to them
. “Sometimes you don’t realize what you are going through until you are in the middle of it,” she says, “which is why awareness of Alzheimer’s Association educational materials and programs
is so important.” In fact, one of Arlene’s main goals is to support today’s caregivers — and educate future caregivers. “The caregiving experience was very hard for me, because I didn't understand the changes going on with my dad,” she shares. “With more awareness and education, I may have been able to do more, earlier.”
One piece of education around Alzheimer’s and dementia that Arlene wants people to be aware of is the signs and symptoms of the disease
. It was on a family trip to Italy when Arlene’s family first realized concerning signs of dementia in her dad. At home, he would occasionally forget a word, but the trip made the family realize that something serious was going on. “He would be awake all night and just couldn't adjust to the schedule the way the rest of us did. He would sleep all day, something more than jetlag; it was clearly signs of sundowning
Changing Dynamics & Family Moments
In addition to enjoying traveling together, Arlene’s family loves watching sports. She went to all of the San Francisco 49ers’ football games with her dad when she was growing up — even the team’s second Super Bowl in 1985. “Those were such special, happy memories,” she shares. “Years later, when I turned on the 49ers game and talked to Dad about star quarterback Joe Montana, I realized that he had no idea who Joe Montana was. That hurt.”
With diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, families often have to try and accept every sad moment and happy moment as it comes, and Arlene knows both sides well. “As his great-grandchildren grew, Dad didn't recognize them, because they had grown up. He remembered them as young kids. But he still loved to sing as his disease progressed, always in Italian. 'O Sole Mio' was a favorite of his, always.”
Arlene says she wouldn’t have believed the widespread, devastating effects of Alzheimer’s if she hadn’t seen it for herself. Today, she stands proud of the work she has accomplished with OSDIA as the Alzheimer's Association chair. From organizing speakers for Alzheimer’s awareness events to dinners, raffles and educational programs, she is passionate about representing a cause in her dad’s honor. “I have worked from the bottom up, following in my father’s footsteps,” she says. “Every OSDIA office he held, I have held.”
Arlene thinks about her dad often, and of the power of his laughter. “At the end of his life, he would talk to everyone in the halls of his assisted living home, always smiling and making people laugh,” she says. “He was a people person, and that never changed. I’m lucky to have been able to celebrate his 100th birthday with him.”
As she continues to spread awareness of Alzheimer’s and other dementia, Arlene encourages families in the midst of the disease to be present. “Visit your loved one. Spend time with them, whether they remember you or not. It could mean more than you possibly know.”
About: Arlene is the OSDIA chair of giving for the Alzheimer's Association. She has two children and two grandchildren, also proud OSDIA members. Arlene lives in Burlingame, California. Her father Mario passed away in 2017.
With 30,000 members, OSDIA is for people of any gender, age, religion, race, creed, orientation and profession. Founded in 1905 as a mutual aid society for the early Italian immigrants, today, OSDIA is the leading service and advocacy organization for the nation’s estimated 26 million people of Italian descent. View our January 2021 Facebook Live event with OSDIA to learn more about our partnership.