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“Promoting conversations between generations is important.” With Fotis Georgiadis & Alicia Fenstermacher

I would promote efforts to reduce ageism and reduce the stigma surrounding those with memory loss. Promoting conversations between generations is important. I would help everyone see each other as people and not as whatever label has been provided arbitrarily based on age or cognitive ability. These conversations and sensitivity would heighten awareness, but also […]

I would promote efforts to reduce ageism and reduce the stigma surrounding those with memory loss. Promoting conversations between generations is important. I would help everyone see each other as people and not as whatever label has been provided arbitrarily based on age or cognitive ability. These conversations and sensitivity would heighten awareness, but also reduce loneliness. I am currently working on these very efforts within Presbyterian Senior Living and the greater communities where we are located. We are first challenging thoughts at home in order to start making small waves of sustainable change.


As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Alicia Fenstermacher. Alicia Fenstermacher has been working in Aging Services for over 20 years, 14 years of which have been with Presbyterian Senior Living. As the Corporate Director of Community Life, Alicia is responsible for supporting successful aging, quality of life, and purposeful living initiatives such as Masterpiece Living, Customer Satisfaction, Memory Care, Social Work Services, Culture Change, and Community Life. She is a licensed Social Worker, licensed Nursing Home Administrator, and licensed Personal Care Home Administrator. Alicia lives in the Lehigh Valley with her husband Jeff, son Mattias, and stepson Maverick. Passionate about the importance of relationships and individual empowerment, Alicia is all about embracing our own “unique-us.”


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

Ireceived my bachelor’s in social work from Kutztown University and then received my master’s degree in Social Work from Rutgers University. I was exposed to many experiences growing up because my parents have always been activists and advocates. Growing up, I initially thought I wanted to be a teacher, but during college I had the opportunity to be involved in many volunteer opportunities with multiple populations, including working at an AIDS hospice and the AIDS quilt project. Those experiences changed my perspective and purpose. Through social work, I can work to speak out for those whose voices are silenced or repressed. Through social work, I can advocate, educate and work to fight social injustices. I find my work with older adults and their families these past 20 years to be rewarding because we work to improve their quality of life and help them to really live life.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have been fortunate to work with amazing individuals who have taught me invaluable life lessons. The stories I have heard from men and women who are true historians are the most valuable part of what I get to do as a social worker. I have met individuals who have lived through civil wars and hardship, and those same individuals have shown extreme resilience which I admire.

My parents, who are forever proud and supportive, wanted to see where I worked. They visited on a day I had off and I toured them on the campus. Imagine my parents’ surprise when 92-year-old “Sally” approached us excitedly yelling “Mom!” She grabbed my hand and kissed me. I am certain that my parents chuckled, but I know they were filled with pride that I was sharing my love and being a comfort. The lesson I remember from this experience is that we need to share our love and simply be present for others. “Mom” is a term of endearment. Sharing love, comfort, and being a support in the manner someone needs it is just as important in my work as any “task” on a list. It should be the most important thing on my “to do” list every day.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

It’s not a mistake, but a humorous and loving story. At age 22, I started as a social worker in a nursing home. I was assigned the responsibility to support 60 individuals living with memory loss, along with their families. One resident — let’s call her “Sally” — was typically very vocal, seeking help and companionship. I spent much time with “Sally,” and over time she called me “Mom.” She would hold my hand while I worked. I even assisted with her care to calm her, which is unusual for a social worker.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am so fortunate to work for an organization that promotes innovation. We have been working to increase sensitivity and awareness for all of our organization’s team members related to what it might be like to live with memory loss or dementia.

Team members experience Dementia Live, which is a simulation of what it might be like to have memory loss. Participants experience changed sensory ability and then are asked to complete complex everyday tasks when overstimulated.

What is consistently amazing is watching participants have their “aha” moment. For many, it is realizing that individuals with memory loss do not do things purposefully, and that we as care partners can always do better to be a support. For others, it is learning that they need to be more patient. When we make the environment noisy and busy it makes it more difficult for the person with memory loss. When we give multiple, complex instructions it makes it more difficult for the person with memory loss. Instead, when we slow down, communicate clearly and carefully, and create a peaceful environment.

We are also constantly looking for innovative ways to keep residents healthy, such as a partnership with a local horse farm to provide health benefits for seniors.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

I can’t say that I am an authority on loneliness. I think we are all authorities on loneliness. Who hasn’t been lonely? Who hasn’t needed a hug or a reassuring phone call? If we all look at our own experiences and allow ourselves to be human and share our feelings, as well as listen, we all become experts.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

  1. As humans we are social beings and need companionship in some way, shape, or manner. Before modern medicine, it took two people in a very social and intimate physical maneuver to create life.
  2. Keeping that in mind, without human touch people fail to thrive. The research on babies thriving and gaining weight because of compassionate human touch is just as relevant to older adults. Mortality is impacted so greatly that those without touch may die sooner than those surrounded by people.
  3. Finally, being isolated and lonely can lead to increased incidents of memory loss for older adults because of lack of stimulation and increased risk for depression.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

Loneliness harms us all on a personal level. Our families and networks become broken and fragmented. On a societal level, the epidemics of depression, anxiety, fear, and loneliness have led to increased use of medications, illegal drugs, alcohol, and suicide to “solve” problems for the moment. If we begin to connect with others and be kind together, one person at a time, we can be better as a society. We also need to bring purpose and meaning into daily life.

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

Families are living further apart and real-world social networks are reducing in size. Consider churches in the area. Less people are physically attending worship and many churches have had to close. This implies that less people are getting social interaction in the previous tradition of church and family. How can we bring people together again?

Another thing I have seen is that when people retire, they do not have the transition time and support to plan what they hope to do next. Individuals retiring should identify ways that they will continue being productive and have a purpose. Will it include volunteering? Will they work part time? What will they spend their days doing now that they do not need to work 8–10–12 hours a day? Is there a retirement mentor or retirement guide?

Is loneliness contagious? Research says it might be. When we are lonely, we withdraw from being around others even though it is counterproductive. We may look to the internet, TV, or video games as a way to feel less lonely when instead we might be just temporarily connecting and not creating real social connections.

Oxytocin is created when we feel love. Dopamine is a chemical that is created when we are excited and can make us talk more. If we spend time online, deep in alternate realities, we often are not talking with other people and are not spending time finding and feeling love. We might be creating our own loneliness. We might be promoting loneliness in others.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.

Let’s keep it simple… and it’s all free.

  1. Say hello to others as you pass them and give a smile. Hold doors open for each other. Be kind. Smiling and kindness can be contagious.
  2. Upon retirement I’d suggest doing what my father has done. Keep part of the job alive (research and writing, for instance) and, of course, continue to cultivate friendships. Expand the network of colleagues to others who were not co-workers.
  3. Volunteer to visit older adults in a nursing home, senior high rise, hospital, or other similar setting. (Bring in your pet. Sing or make crafts. Assist with gardening. Share stories about your recent trip or adventure.) People of all ages get lonely…so just get out there and be a volunteer where you think you are needed most.
  4. Every day make an effort to reach out to a neighbor, a friend, or family member, even if it is by phone or in person or by Skype/video chat to check on someone and let them know you care. It only takes a minute and can make a huge difference. (Put down the phone if you are able to and make a connection.)
  5. Simply work on expanding your social network to 3–4 people. Who would you call at 3am, if you were sick and needed help? Who would you call at 3pm if you were having a crisis and needed an ear? When we give to others, it gives back to us.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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 would promote efforts to reduce ageism and reduce the stigma surrounding those with memory loss. Promoting conversations between generations is important. I would help everyone see each other as people and not as whatever label has been provided arbitrarily based on age or cognitive ability. These conversations and sensitivity would heighten awareness, but also reduce loneliness. I am currently working on these very efforts within Presbyterian Senior Living and the greater communities where we are located. We are first challenging thoughts at home in order to start making small waves of sustainable change.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

To narrow it down to one is difficult…Jimmy Carter. I admire him for his humanitarian outreach. He is a good person and I would love to sit down with him and Roselynn and just talk about what motivates them, what events in their lives have had the most impact and what words of wisdom they would have to offer.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Along with my colleagues, I write many blogs on topics impacting older adults and their families. They can be found on https://www.presbyterianseniorliving.org/blog.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!

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