Alexis Abramson of Comfort Keepers: Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel; 5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During This Corona Crisis
“A writer is working when they are staring out of the window.” Once the self-indulgence wore off, I knew I needed to use the additional time left in what I call the ‘quiet period’ wisely. For me, it was time to write. I wanted to be somewhat productive, so I sought out a major project that I longed to complete. So many older adults and their caregivers have asked me how they can prevent being the victim of a scam. When my dad, a retired physician and one of the brightest humans I know (don’t even try to do a Sunday NYT crossword puzzle with him — moot point!), had almost every penny he owned deposited into a bitcoin account due to a group of highly sophisticated scammers I took heed.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Abramson.
Alexis Abramson, PhD, has dedicated over 25 years to multi-generational studies and the science of aging. She is a leading Lifestyle Gerontologist, with a specific focus on longevity, caregiving, and scam/fraud prevention. Abramson received a Doctorate in Gerontology from the prestigious University of Southern California and was trained in Cybersecurity Fraud Prevention at Harvard University. Her sought-after insight and experience have led her worldwide as an inspiring speaker, author, spokesperson, corporate trainer, consultant, and entrepreneur. Dr. Alexis is well-known as an Emmy and Gracie award-winning journalist who has appeared frequently as an on-air expert for NBC’s Today show, CNN, CBS, FOX, MSNBC, and many other media outlets. Her commitment to multi-generations has been featured in many national publications, including TIME, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and People. In addition to her own popular blog, Dr. Alexis is a featured contributor for several top-tier websites and the author of five highly acclaimed books. Dr. Alexis has consulted for numerous major organizations, including Duracell, Arthritis Foundation, Sanofi, L’Oreal Paris, Philips, BMO Private Bank, Siemens, COMCAST, Comfort Keepers, Service Corporation International, Kroger, AAA, RiverSource, Northwestern Mutual, Beltone, Proctor & Gamble, ADP, Marriott, Century 21, Humana, AIG, National Golf Foundation, Subway, Genworth, Kimberly-Clark, Walmart, AARP and many more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I chose the field of aging early on because I have always felt a kindred spirit towards the older generation. I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents when I was growing up and found those experiences to be life-changing. While others were putting the older generation out to pasture and marginalizing their role in society, I did everything I could to learn from their experience and wisdom. I find my work extremely rewarding because, quite frankly, this is still an untapped market — the opportunities within the field are infinite. Given the growing demographics and the true ‘global graying’ on the way, those who have chosen to be in the field of aging are ripe for success, both from a personal and professional aspect.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I am a very avid reader — so this is a tough one to narrow down! I would have to say The Alchemist is one of my favorite books of all time. I’ve read this book frequently over the years and learn something new about myself each time. It is as though the book is evolving, but it is really me who is moving along the journey we call life.
Without giving away too much information, the story is about a young shepherd who goes out exploring the world searching for treasure and finally finds out that the treasure was right at his door. This book emphasizes that we all have a life purpose, a reason for being and that yours is just as important as anybody else’s. It reminds us to leave the past behind, or as Ted Lasso would say, “Be a Goldfish!”
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I’m not sure I can speak directly to how the words ‘hopeful’ and ‘Corona Crisis’ correlate at this particular moment as we are now amid a second (variant) wave that is extremely anxiety-producing. I can only talk about how this experience has pushed me to become a better and more aware individual striving to be a change agent while adding value to those around me and within my community. You asked me to share my 5 reasons to be hopeful during this crisis, so here is my truth and what I’ve done to stay as even-keeled as possible.
- “Give time to empty your mind. It will help you build new dreams.” During the first few weeks of the pandemic lockdown, I had 44 upcoming (in-person) speeches either canceled or delayed to an unknown future date — YES 44!!!! As you can imagine, my ‘work’ anxiety was high. Early on, I don’t think any of us realized that this was more than just a break in our schedules, that it was a true catastrophe. This pause gave me a reprieve I had not had in years; entrepreneurship is a 24/7 job, and my company was in year 25, so it’d been a minute since I’d taken a break. I listened to music, binged on the shows everyone recommended, reconnected via zoom with many of the folks I had lost touch with due to my professional schedule, and yes, overindulged like everyone else! Although throughout I have served as the primary caregiver for my 80 plus-year-old parents, I allowed myself to stop and truly breathe. And think. It was a gift, and for that, I am grateful.
- “A writer is working when they are staring out of the window.” Once the self-indulgence wore off, I knew I needed to use the additional time left in what I call the ‘quiet period’ wisely. For me, it was time to write. I wanted to be somewhat productive, so I sought out a major project that I longed to complete. So many older adults and their caregivers have asked me how they can prevent being the victim of a scam. When my dad, a retired physician and one of the brightest humans I know (don’t even try to do a Sunday NYT crossword puzzle with him — moot point!), had almost every penny he owned deposited into a bitcoin account due to a group of highly sophisticated scammers I took heed. So, in my usual style, I dove straight in. During the lockdown, I enrolled in an online course, received a Cybersecurity Fraud Prevention degree from Harvard University, and wrote a book titled Stop Fraud. It’s all about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from fraud, scams, and identity theft. I hope this book will help all of us keep our hard-earned money out of the hands of nefarious fraudsters!
- “In life, there are people you are going to have to lose to find yourself.” I’ve always been super close to my family, but the pandemic made me sit down and take stock in ‘my people.’ Both my blood family and what we like to call in Gerontology, my fictive kin. Fictive kin is defined as someone who, though unrelated by birth or marriage, has such a close emotional relationship with another person that they may be considered part of the family. I had never taken the time to dissect those relationships and determine whether they were at their highest level or just ‘meh,’ as the kids say. I sat down and wrote the pros and cons of each connection and created a list of how I could improve them from my side and what I needed to ask of my loved ones so that our relationships could continue to grow. I must admit…a couple of folks in the fictive kin category fell off the list, and I decided they weren’t as close as I’d imagined in my illusory thinking. Sounds harsh, but they were jettisoned.
- “Celebrate the joys by elevating the human spirit.” I work closely with a fantastic company called Comfort Keepers, and I’ve learned a great lesson from them when it comes to focusing on all you are grateful for in your life. Comfort Keepers, a leading provider of home care for seniors and adults who need assistance, strives toward “elevating the human spirit,” and they’ve even gone as far as registering the last Wednesday of every June as the National Day of Joy. It is a day meant to raise awareness about the need for more joy in the world and encourage people to spread joy to others. During Covid, I’ve gleaned from my experience working with them that no matter our circumstances, it is important that we try to focus on the activities, people, and places that provide us with the most joy. When I wake up, I think about how I can express and receive the most joy that day. It has helped me remain hopeful during this trying time and kept me focused on the positive aspects of my life.
- “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” In times of crisis, it can be helpful to try to alter your universe somehow. I accomplish this through reading. No matter where I am, I always seem to discuss what people are reading these days. And when I hear about something that sounds up my alley, I immediately download it onto my kindle for a later date. The three years prior to the pandemic have been extremely busy for me professionally, I am not complaining, but it left little to no time for reading. I thought, what better time than now to escape this chaotic situation we’ve all found ourselves in and travel (virtually, of course) wherever these books take me. I kid you not, I opened my kindle, and there were 302 books downloaded. I believe I single-handedly supported the annual salary of at least a few Amazon employees over the last few years! SO, I am slowly getting through the books one by one. This process might take a lifetime, and perhaps I will never get to the final book, but hey, it’s an excellent goal to have, and the process has kept my mind in a somewhat ‘happy’ place during the unsettling timeframe we are all experiencing.
From your experience or research what are steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Ask questions and listen — before you try to help. During the pandemic’s initial phase, a close friend who provides most of the financial support for her extended family lost her job. I immediately sprang into action and began doing everything I could think of to connect her with people in my network who might help her secure another position that matched her experience. She was showing extreme signs of anxiety, and I thought I could provide relief by solving this issue. What I didn’t realize is that although losing her job was stressful, it wasn’t the primary reason why she felt anxiety and overall unease. She was distraught that her aging parents, both of whom suffer from comorbidities, could potentially die if they contracted Covid-19. If I had asked more about the real source of her anxiety and the type of support she needed, it would have been much more helpful from the get-go.
- Let them do the heavy lifting. Often when we see a friend or loved one with anxiety, we want to solve the problem to help them make it go away. It is essential that although we are there for them, we must let the person do the hard work. There is usually a root cause of the anxiety. They must ultimately be held responsible for working through the issue and creating a less anxiety-ridden life for themselves. For instance, if the two of you talk through the situation and conclude they need a therapist, you can perhaps help them find one but don’t do all the legwork. It’s like anything in life if others pick up all the pieces and do everything, we are apt to repeat our tendencies as we know we have a security net that will solve our problems. Obviously, if they are suicidal or it is an emergency, you must do whatever it takes to ease their pain and get them immediate help.
- Care for the caregiver. It’s a particularly stressful and anxiety-producing time for all of us right now. No one is being spared the fear that the risks have produced. Make sure that taking on a loved one’s anxiety isn’t creating a compromising situation for you, especially if you historically have had issues with anxiety or depression. There are ways to help someone without carrying their burden yourself. Try to be as attentive as possible, but when you feel you’re starting to ‘own’ their issues, you need to take a breath and step back. Sometimes it is easier to help de-stress an individual by using activities such as playing games or exercising together, doing something lighter while still being together, and talking about your feelings. I have heard about many therapists who have stopped one-to-one visits in their office and are now taking their clients out into nature to make the process less daunting.
Side note: Did you know that trees emit compounds called phytoncides? Phytoncides are chemicals or ‘essential oils’ given off by trees. Numerous studies show that walking in a forest or simply sitting looking at trees improves mood, lowers blood pressure, and decreases the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. There is even a formal practice called Forest Bathing that trains guides who offer this type of activity; check it out at ForestBathingFinder.com.
What are some resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
There are many levels and stages of anxiety, some that can be soothed by meditating or a long conversation with a confident and others that require therapy or immediate intervention. It is essential first to determine the level of anxiety and then take the necessary action. Here are some resources that might be helpful in these situations.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); 800–950-NAMI (800–950–6264)
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA); 240–485–1001.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); 866–615–6464.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Mental Health (CDC); 800-CDC-INFO (800–232–4636)
- Better Help; BetterHelp.com
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I have always been a huge Wayne Dyer fan, and one of his quotes remains a favorite of mine.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
I was part of a panel with Wayne one time, and I told him how much I loved that quote and its impact on the lens through which I have chosen to view my life and the lives of those around me. His response, “When you change the way you see the world; when your intentions are positive and powerful; when you search only for the good, then your life transforms into the amazing adventure it was designed to be.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’ve just recently partnered with my mom to do just that! It started as a little project when she asked for my help to create a website where she could leave short stories and ‘life lessons’ for her kids and grandkids so that when she is no longer with us, we have a place we can go to continue to always learn from her.
It turns out we never do anything small, and the website is now transforming into a free platform where people over 65, all over the world, can share their legacy lessons. It’s called Lessons in a Nutshell, and we are getting extremely positive feedback and support from both a B2B and a B2C standpoint.
Andy Rooney, an American radio and television personality, best known for his weekly addresses on the show 60 minutes, once said,
“The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.”
I couldn’t agree more! Older adults often want to share their great ideas or opinions or even a discovery they’ve made that could change the lives of others, but no one seems to be listening! Throughout my career, many mature adults have expressed that few people seem truly interested in the thoughts coming from an “old” person. They say that they feel invisible. This website is an answer to sharing those ideas, stories, insights, lessons, experiences, and workarounds with people who value the ‘wisdom of the elders.’
What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?
Your readers can find me on my website, AlexisAbramson.com, my YouTube channel, and across social media, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn:
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/AlexisAbramson
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Alexis Abramson of Comfort Keepers: Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel; 5 Reasons To Be Hopeful… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.