Alexis Abramson’s biography is jam-packed with details about her career as a speaker, blogger, corporate consultant, author and award-winning entrepreneur and journalist.
But it was her time as a caregiver – and the insights gleaned during the 10 years she spent tending to the needs of her maternal grandmother – that seemed to resonate most deeply with an audience in White Plains recently.
The gerontology expert, nicknamed Doctor Alexis and nationally known for her work on behalf of baby boomers and mature adults, spoke about “Caring for the Caregiver” during a July 11 presentation at The Kensington, an enhanced assisted living residence on Maple Avenue.
When Abramson, now 45, was in her 20s, she was the primary caregiver for her grandmother, Mimi Rose.
It was a period of great challenges.
“Whenever you’re a paid caregiver or an unpaid caregiver you have some very tough moments,” she said.
But, Abramson added, it was a time of even greater rewards, a period that had an enduring impact on her life and solidified her commitment to her chosen field.
“It was the most incredible time in my life,” Abramson said. “I was so honored.”
Having learned so much both in academic settings – she has a doctorate in gerontology from the University of Southern California’s Davis School of Gerontology – and firsthand, Abramson is dedicated to helping others on their own “caregiving journey.”
And reflective of Abramson’s personality and approach, the presentation combined straightforward advice with a hefty dose of humor. There were not only facts, figures and practical suggestions, but also plenty of funny anecdotes, cartoons, short videos and even a bit of song.
It’s a way to face a most serious problem, Abramson said in a chat before the formal program began.
“I feel very strongly that mature adults have been put out to pasture,” she said.
The Emmy Award-winning journalist, who appeared frequently as an on-air expert gerontologist for NBC’s “Today Show” and “Weekend Today” and has also appeared on CNN, CBS and MSNBC, was quick to reel off facts and figures that show just how important the field of eldercare is.
She says that there are currently more than 65 million caregivers (defined as those who care for an aging loved one) in the United States. Nearly one in four households is involved in caring for a relative or friend who is aged 50 or older. Caregivers, she says, are primarily female (72 percent), mostly wives and adult daughters. The average age of a caregiver is 47. More than one in three, though, are mature adults (65 or older) themselves.
Caregiving can last from less than a year to decades, with 80 percent of caregivers providing at least some type of unpaid assistance seven days a week.
And the need for caregivers, Abramson added, is growing. It’s also estimated that more than 80 million people in this country will have more than two chronic conditions by the year 2020.
There are already growing problems that will impact the number of caregivers who will be available in coming years. A rise in rates of divorce and remarriage, increasing geographic mobility, smaller family sizes, a delay in childbearing and an increase in women in the workplace all contribute to less available help for the aging population, she said.
And it is time, Abramson said, to address the situation: “Otherwise, it’s going to be a catastrophe, an epidemic.”
Abramson, who is based in Manhattan and Atlanta, is involved in most every aspect of eldercare. Just a glimpse of her partial client list shows the breadth of her work, as she has provided services for businesses, events and organizations such as AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, General Foods, Century 21 Real Estate Corp., the National Association of Television Executives, Senior Olympics and the White House Conference on Aging.
All of her background and training help her make a thoughtful connection with those she addresses at her many speaking engagements.
“I’m here to throw you a lifeline and show you there are some tools,” she said to the audience, as she launched into a presentation that touched on everything from juggling multiple tasks to managing feelings, from how to garner family support to how to communicate effectively with your loved one.
Much of the talk reflected the topics covered in Abramson’s book, “The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook,” written with Mary Anne Dunkin.
As Abramson is often tapped as keynote speaker at industry conferences and helps bring awareness of baby boomer and mature adult issues to corporations, consumers, government agencies and nonprofit groups, she is also sometimes asked to address some very practical needs, from personal-care products to ways to adapt a home.
“I think products need to be taken to another level,” she said. “Manufacturers need to be challenged.”
For many, the topic of aging and eldercare is mired in financial concerns, as well.
“People are making some pretty critical decisions now, whether they’re going to pay for their children’s educations or their parents’ health care,” Abramson says. “Our fountain of youth is finances.”
In the end, she said one of the biggest issues in facing this growing challenge is learning how to deal with the feelings that caregiving prompts, including stress and guilt.
“As caregivers, we can’t turn our feelings on and off,” she said. “There are so many issues and challenges that guilt has become a major problem.”
She hopes that people can learn to provide caregiving in an environment that serves both the needs of the loved one – and the caregiver.
After all, she said, remembering her time with her maternal grandmother, the caregiving experience was one that has been a major part of her life a positive experience, that cannot be replaced. She got to spend quality time and form a bond that she has helped turn into a legacy“I know the stories and I’m going to pass them on.”