by Art Eddy, III
Dr. Alexis Abramson is an industry expert for people over 50. Dr. Abramson and her team, work across a broad spectrum of industries including healthcare, consumer products, retail, technology, finance, real estate, travel, tourism, automotive, media, entertainment and fashion.
Alexis Abramson has written books on these topics. I was able to ask her a few questions on her research and how to be a good caregiver to the baby boomer generation.
Art Eddy: Tell me a bit about the work that you do with people over 50 years old?
Alexis Abramson: I’m a leading industry expert, a futurist of sorts, as it relates to the business and lifestyle of those over the age of 50. I have a PhD in Gerontology, the field of aging, and have dedicated my work to helping people fully embrace what I like to refer to as the “30 Bonus Years.” These are the additional “bonus” or “gifted” years that we now have the luxury to experience, and hopefully enjoy, as we grow older. Due mainly to technology and medical breakthroughs, the average life expectancy went from 47 in the 1900’s to 77 and beyond today – now that we will be living much longer many people approaching retirement age find they are definitely not ready to just step aside from life and be forgotten!
My work is mainly focused as a keynote speaker, blogger, on air expert and corporate consultant – I spend the majority of my time discussing how we can all live healthier, wealthier and wiser during the second half of our lives. I’m absolutely committed to baby boomers, caregivers and mature adults – I intend to disrupt the way people currently look at aging! I believe that longer life spans will allow us to experience a much broader range of activities that we, previously, never imagined we would be able to make a part of our lives. In essence, I spend my time endorsing living life to the fullest at any age!
AE: What have you seen over the last few years about baby boomers and how retirement has been for them in this economy?
AA: Despite the faltering economy of the last five years, American older adults are better off than ever, in large part because more seniors, especially older women, are working than in previous decades. According to a 2012 report from the Federal Agency Forum, the number of senior citizens living in poverty has declined from 15 percent to 9 percent since the mid-1970s, while the proportion of older Americans enjoying a “high income” increased from 18 to 31 percent. Older people are more active and vibrant than ever before, responsible for 50% of all discretionary income and spending upwards of $3 trillion every year on consumer-related services.
Businesses, foundations and agencies in a wide variety of industries including fashion, fitness, travel, healthcare, transportation, retail and real estate need to be prepared to offer the services demanded by this growing population who are already outspending other generations by an estimated $400 billion each year on consumer goods & services. So even while the escalating number of retirees may begin to strain government resources, they will provide enormous money making opportunities for those who are offering 50+ friendly products and services.
AE: The life expectancy age is now higher. What are some ways people can prepare to make sure they are taken care of after they retire?
I suggest that the preparation and “decision-making” begin long before things start to shift in terms of an individual’s retirement plans, living arrangements, health status, financial situation, etc. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead with the assumption that you’ll live to 100 – bad back, aching knees and all! Just as an example, in terms of planning from a caregiving perspective you must have “the talk” well before a crisis arises and let people know exactly what your wishes are in terms of your care. It can be very expensive, and undesirable, to have to solve a caregiving challenge in crisis mode – which is often exactly what happens when a person doesn’t plan ahead.
In addition, you’ve got to talk to your loved ones about finances. My grandfather died and he kept telling us over and over and over that he had a bank account in Switzerland but he never told us exactly where it was located. We’ve been looking for it for 20 years now! Basically, if you want to decrease your financial investment in caregiving, increase the emotional comfort level between you and your loved ones, and age as gracefully as possible, start talking now!
AE: Do you find people working after the age of 65 to make ends meet?
Turning 65 is no guarantee that you will be ready or willing to retire. A rapidly growing number of Americans are continuing to work well beyond their 65th birthday. Many workers are now physically able to work beyond traditional retirement age due to continuing good health, innovative technology and medical advances – and therefore they are doing just that! There’s definitely a growing realization that if you retire at age 65 and live until you’re age 95, you will need to save enough money to pay for 30 years of retirement and you also might want to have something worthwhile to do over that 30 year time period. My impression, and research certainly backs this up, is that people may not be working longer due to just financial reasons – or to make ends meet as you said – but they can and want to continue adding value to their lives and the lives of those around them during those 30 bonus years.
AE: You also focus in on fashion for people 50 and over. What made you focus on that issue?
AA: I’m especially interested in “functional” fashion for baby boomer women. For some reason boomer women (and their Moms!) seem to be positioned as an invisible group of consumers that many brands (especially luxury ones) choose to ignore. I have no idea why designers and retailers don’t care that women age 50 and older control a net worth of $19 trillion and own/control between two-thirds and three-fourths of the nation’s financial wealth, depending on whose statistics you believe.
These ladies are also expected to be the beneficiaries of the largest transfer of wealth in our country’s history, in part due to double inheritances from parents and husbands. Between the ages of 55 and 64, they spend more on apparel than any other age group. It just doesn’t seem prudent to marginalize a group that practically rules the world. It’s no secret that due to normal aging our bodies change – and no matter what our “body type” 50+ women look better in specific styles – so why not create a hip clothing line that’s both fashionable AND functional for the 50+ woman of today.
AE: One thing I find is that with the baby boomer generation is that they love their “dumb phones” and don’t want a smartphone? What is your take on some people from that generation who are opposed to technology?
AA: Many people believe, erroneously, that old people can’t figure out new technology. Does this really make any sense? While there may be various physiological changes that make it harder to “teach an old dog new tricks,” they obviously aren’t too overwhelming given the number of older, tech savvy people that are out there. Personally, having been a gerontologist for over 20 years, I have come to this conclusion: Older people tend to be bad at learning new technology because they believe that they’re supposed to be bad at learning new technology. End of story.
Sure it may take them a little longer to adopt or learn new technology but I don’t believe they necessarily “love their dumb phone and don’t want a smart phone” as you stated in your question. It’s important to remember – changes and advancements in technology have the potential to benefit older adults by promoting independence and increasing their ability to age in place. However, older adults are less likely to adopt new technology unless they see how it might benefit them. Overall, older adults are not negatively biased toward technology. In fact, research tells us that if you actually ask them you will find older adults are usually extremely eager to explain how they use technology in their everyday lives and often express a desire to find out about additional products on the market.
I recently answered a series of questions about great technology for the 50+ – Gadgets Every Boomer Needs – take a look – you might be surprised at the innovative 50+ friendly products that are currently in the marketplace. In the future, technology developed and marketed “with older adults in mind” will be the most successful and will help them achieve greater independence and quality of life.
AE: Another subject you focus on is caregiving. What are some of helpful tips you can pass on to those people, young or old, that are taking care of the elderly?
AA: I’m a big believer that the expectation must be that everyone will one day be a caregiver – whether it be for your aging parents, a neighbor, a loved one – we’re all likely to be in that position at some point in our lives. As I mentioned earlier, first and foremost you need to talk to your loved ones about caregiving and what kind of role they want to play. Unfortunately what we often do – especially women who currently make up 73% of the over 44 million primary caregivers in the United States – is take on the martyr role and let other family members and friends off the hook.
You should treat caregiving like it’s a business. There should be someone who’s the CEO, who delegates responsibilities, but in a way that person will motivate and organize the entire caregiving team. For example, just because your brother’s an accountant doesn’t mean he wants to handle your parents’ finances. Find out what he wants to do. Also, be creative; if your nephew can’t find a job and needs to make some money, you might think about paying him to take your mom to the doctor and sit with her. That might sound mercenary but frankly she doesn’t ever have to know about it.
I also feel strongly that it’s important to get a 3rd party expert involved who knows what to look for and who is not emotionally involved. For example, a geriatric care manager is a trained outside observer who might do an assessment and ask, “Has your mom always been this thin?” Sometimes the solution can be as easy as moving food a little bit lower in the cupboard so she can reach it and therefore perhaps she will begin to eat more. They can also help get the right services in place, like home healthcare, or manage the situation locally if you live far from your parent. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers is pretty fabulous in terms of a referral source for finding a local geriatric care manager.
AE: I am in my thirties and both my wife and I had to at one point take care of our parents. It was tough when we were taking of our kids and our parents. How can my generation balance the role of caretaking with all the other aspects we have in our life?
AA: Having been a caregiver myself for over 10 years and written the book “The Caregivers Survival Handbook” I can promise you that “taking care of the caregiver” is definitely one of the most important aspects of the caregiving journey! Nearly one in four U.S. households is involved in caring for a relative or friend aged 50 or older – this is an epidemic and it’s only going to get worse over the next decade. Clearly many caregivers are caught between the needs of their young families and the daunting task of caring for their elderly relatives.
Watching a loved one grow old is filled with emotional upheaval, and when you compound that with other stresses – rush-hour traffic, deadlines, sick children, dirty laundry – caregivers are often left holding the bag. They feel a pressure to be all things to all people, often ending up giving themselves the short end of the stick. The most common feeling primary caregivers have toward aging loved ones is guilt. Guilt can be destructive, making one feel tired, weak and immobile.
No matter how much you do, there may be times when you tell yourself that you could do better. I suggest you try to not only recognize – but if at all possible – accept these feelings of guilt. Without recognition, guilt can be a destructive force. Know where these feelings a coming from and be aware that you are not alone in having such thoughts. For 10 tips on how to deal with caregiver guilt I’ve recently written a helpful blog entitled Saying Goodbye to Caregiver Guilt.