Emmy Award-winning journalist and television producer Alexandra Gleysteen knows the power of stories to inform, educate and inspire people. From the fall of the Berlin Wall to Fidel Castro’s reign in Cuba, she’s helped bring important news stories to life.
In recent years, Gleysteen’s career has taken an exciting turn to Alzheimer’s prevention and research. She helps lead the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) at Cleveland Clinic, an organization founded by longtime business partner and friend Maria Shriver.
“I’ve always produced stories and events highlighting women’s issues,” Gleysteen says. “But as my work became more focused on Alzheimer’s disease in women, I felt I needed more education. I thought academic training could help me develop a stronger voice to help change the narrative around this topic.”
In 2019, Gleysteen worked on an Alzheimer’s task force with USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology associate professor María Aranda, PhD. Aranda suggested Gleysteen pursue a Graduate Certificate of Gerontology.
Developing a solid foundation in gerontology
Gleysteen was 64 when she applied to the USC Leonard Davis School, over 40 years after earning her bachelor’s degree from Yale University. Her original plan was to attend classes on campus, but COVID-19 hit. Online classes ultimately proved to be more efficient and allowed her to continue working full time.
Once Gleysteen completed her certificate, she continued her studies, earning a Master of Arts in Gerontology (MAG) in 2022. Class highlights included:
- Social Policy and Aging: Carolyn Cicero, PhD taught this class, which offered an in-depth look at Medicare and other policies affecting the aging population.
- Sociology of Aging & Psychology of Aging: Paul Nash, PhD instructed both classes, introducing Gleysteen to the factors affecting aging. These issues include social determinants of health, access to health care and mindset.
“What I learned at USC Leonard Davis School has directly impacted my day-to-day work with WAM,” Gleysteen says. “It’s given me a solid gerontology foundation and the ability to read and understand scientific papers and ask relevant questions.”
Cultivating a long, successful career
Gleysteen worked at NBC for over two decades, producing segments for prime-time news shows. Early on, NBC executives paired her with Shriver, who was a correspondent. “We built a friendship and a common set of values around narrative and storytelling,” Gleysteen says. “We traveled the globe covering politics, world events and everyday people.”
She also ran other shows, such as CBS This Morning, and worked as an independent producer. Her work on the PBS documentary on the French chef Thomas Keller won her an Emmy Award. Gleysteen earned an Emmy nomination for an NBC documentary about Farrah Fawcett’s battle with cancer.
When Shriver became First Lady of California, she invited Gleysteen to produce the California Governor & First Lady’s Conference on Women. From 2004 to 2010, the conference attracted a range of leading figures to discuss the many issues affecting women.
Shifting focus to Alzheimer’s disease
In 2011, Shriver’s father passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. Shriver’s interest in the condition and women’s issues led her to partner with the Alzheimer’s Association on The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s.
The report examined the heavy toll Alzheimer’s disease takes on women’s lives as caregivers and patients. Indeed, two-thirds of people with Alzheimer’s disease are women. Shriver set a mission, with Gleysteen at her side, to change this statistic.
Partnering with Cleveland Clinic
In 2022, Shriver’s nonprofit — A Woman’s Nation — joined forces with the Cleveland Clinic, becoming WAM. In her executive producer role for WAM, Gleysteen wears many hats.
She spends much of her time organizing fundraising events and coordinating with partners across the U.S. Gleysteen helps raise funds to support WAM’s core activities, including:
- Education: WAM provides education to the public through events, reports, polls and online content.
- Prevention: Located in the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, WAM is the only Alzheimer’s disease prevention center in the U.S. Women can visit WAM to receive an evaluation of their Alzheimer’s disease risk and a medical plan to prevent the disease.
- Research: WAM funds researchers investigating Alzheimer’s disease in women.
Gleysteen is also involved in the daily management of the organization, helping review grant applications and producing WAM’s monthly newsletter.
Creating better conversations around the end of life
As an independent consultant, Gleysteen also works with other clients. End Well is a current client working to revolutionize the end-of-life experience. For most people, death is scary and a topic to avoid, Gleysteen says. End Well wants to raise awareness and change how individuals and society approach dying, death and grieving.
In November 2023, Gleysteen produced a live event for End Well in Los Angeles. The End Well Symposium featured 25 pioneers in end-of-life issues. Speakers included health care professionals, television producers, actors, death doulas and a human composting expert.
Gleysteen’s work has evolved, but storytelling is a consistent theme that runs through everything she’s accomplished as a journalist, producer and advocate. “At the end of the day, it’s my job to tell stories that influence how people think,” Gleysteen says. “That’s the key to changing minds, shifting public policy and improving people’s lives.”
To learn more about master’s programs at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, call us at (213) 740-5156.