What becomes important when you get old

Live healthy : Let grow old

Show me! Ulrike Müller takes the glasses out of the case: “I'm curious about that.” She needs the glasses because the numbers on the paper that she picks up are small. With his index finger, Müller strokes the table from top to bottom. Until she reaches the line where her age is: 65 years. In addition, the probable life expectancy at this age is entered - and Müller almost screams: "What !?"

Probably another 30 years. Because the table with small print says that Müller will probably be 94 years old. Insurance companies make such forecasts on a regular basis, taking into account their own data and the values ​​of the statistical offices. If you look at one of these tables, you will see that a boy born today will live on average almost 100 years old, a girl 103.

An ever longer life is not only made possible by medical progress, but also because life in Germany is changing: Less alcohol is drunk, less smoking is taking place, and there are fewer serious accidents. “94 years! I wouldn't have thought that, ”says Ulrike Müller. "On the other hand, I feel fit, at least not less fit than when I was in my mid-50s."

Aging is, well, an unstoppable process. Everyone is getting older. Still, getting older is often associated with negatives: slower, more frail, poorer. That is not everything empirically. Every third trip is booked by a retiree, most old people feel ten years younger than they are, and seniors are volunteering all over the country.

Doctors speak of the compression thesis: According to this, the time span between the age at the onset of an irreversible disease and the time of death becomes shorter. Until they fall victim to a fatal disease, the elderly live largely healthy longer - thanks to exercise, a healthy diet and the success of research.

Ulrike Müller worked as an administrative clerk in the south of Berlin for four decades. She has recently been receiving a monthly pension of around 1080 euros: rather little, as she says, but adequate. She has a two-room apartment on the fourth floor, which is easily accessible by elevator. She has no chronic diseases and is hardly overweight. She has a lot of time to herself. For Ulrike Müller, too, it is now about not rusting, not locking up. How can a happy, at least 30-year-old retirement be organized?

With the end of working life, the social environment becomes smaller. And because women get older than men, retirees in particular are often alone. Ulrike Müller's husband also died a few years ago at the age of 73. In order not to become lonely, friendships have to be cultivated more intensively; spontaneous meetings with acquaintances become rare after leaving the profession.

“The good thing is that more and more people are getting older, so social networks are preserved longer than they were a generation ago,” says Oliver Huxhold from the German Center for Aging in Berlin. "Pensioners are also much fitter than they were 20 years ago."

Huxhold is a psychologist and has evaluated relevant data. In general, the fear of old age is decreasing. In a study from 2008, 62 percent of the 70 to 85-year-olds questioned spoke of a “high level of life satisfaction”, and only four percent of a “low” one. According to Huxhold, it is important not to mislead yourself: "Otherwise the fear of aging will become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

If you let yourself down, you will be left down? Maybe it's that simple. In any case, Ulrike Müller sees that immediately. “If you feel sorry for yourself,” she says in her apartment, “nobody wants to visit.” Psychologist Huxhold explains that senior citizens may have fewer contacts, but they tend to be more careful and conflicts are not so hot. If you can also motivate yourself to exercise, it could even be better after retirement. “The stress from the office is missing, but we go jogging,” says Huxhold. “A lot of them feel better at first.” Many seniors do what makes sense from a scientific point of view anyway: set goals, plan trips, rediscover hobbies. "It is good to look for new fields that are then the focus instead of the profession."

Most aging researchers, whether doctors, psychologists or social scientists, agree: Those who are consciously concerned with their aging are more satisfied. Medical and nursing care in Germany remains at a high level anyway.

In the 1990s it was much more difficult for old people. The geriatrics of the clinics were small wards, while doctors focused on other specialties. Statutory long-term care insurance was only introduced in 1995. And leisure activities for retirees weren't available everywhere.

Today there is senior sports, senior travel, senior reading groups. In Berlin alone, 300 new beds were recently approved for geriatrics. And nursing homes are also better monitored by their own industry associations.

If seniors used to end up in the emergency rooms, they naturally received help with physical malaises. It just depended on the individual doctor or the respective nurse whether the patients were asked how often relatives come to visit and what sources of danger the household harbors. Anyone who came to the rescue center because of a fall was not necessarily examined for dementia and depression.

"A lot has gotten better there," says Eric Hilf, who works as chief physician at the Sana Clinic in Lichtenberg and sits on the board of the Berlin Geriatric Association. “After a fall, we ask everything: Has the patient ever fallen? How does he live Who is visiting him? "

The Sana Clinic has employed social workers who take care of geriatric patients. They clarify whether patients can get by with their money, whether relatives drop by, whether it is not too difficult to live in one's own apartment. Again and again, the question arises as to when life in a nursing home is better than life in your own apartment. Head doctor Hilf says that many homes wrongly have a bad reputation and that the regular daily routine there often helps the elderly.

But it is also clear that aging will not be a largely carefree process for everyone. Anyone who was hard to inspire their entire life, who would rather sit on the couch in front of the TV than run on the sports field, will be hard to motivate even as a pensioner. “I advise everyone to exercise,” says Hilf. “And it's best not just to do sports, but also to get involved in a club.” Training is good because there are moments of recognition and praise - something that you once received in the office or company and is now missing.

The prerequisites for a happy third age, as retirement is often referred to, are of course different. Not everyone, like Ulrike Müller, has been trained to be an administrative expert at a university of applied sciences and has a caring family. Müller has two working sons and two school-age grandchildren, and the family comes together on all birthdays. There are books, records, flowers in her apartment. She is an educated, happy woman. If she does not withdraw - for example because of an illness - there is a certain probability that she can look forward to three happy decades.

For Müller, the following also applies: educated, happy people get older than uneducated, unhappy people. Psychologist Huxhold says that income, but above all education, has an even greater impact in old age than usual because the framework of rules and contacts from the job is then missing. Ulrike Müller, who has stable contacts, may even be 96, 98 or 100 years old.

"Those who are active with others feel better," reports Regina Saeger, 75 years old. Saeger was a banker and is the elected chairwoman of the Berlin State Seniors' Advisory Board. The body has certain powers and combats all kinds of age discrimination. Thousands of senior citizens volunteer in Berlin, and the regional seniors' advisory board helps them with this. Saeger says that suitable honorary positions can be found everywhere for different abilities.

Those who are alone, says Saeger, are also more inclined to go to the doctor about every ailment they feel. Doctors actually report that older people regularly come to the practices, not because of physical ailments, but out of loneliness and boredom, in order to be able to talk to someone.

The regional seniors' council also warns of poverty in old age. It is noticeable that little is said about it in public debates. Despite the social cuts in recent years, old people rarely complained about a lack of money and impending poverty, says psychologist Huxhold.

That could change: in Berlin and the surrounding area, many retirees will soon only be able to live in certain neighborhoods because they can only afford rents there. In some streets in Wedding and Neukölln, low-wage earners and Hartz IV recipients are already predominantly living - and increasingly senior citizens who have to get by on a monthly pension of 700 euros and therefore apply for subsidies from the office. A few years ago, a study showed that a quarter of all 55 to 64 year olds in Berlin were taking early retirement for health reasons and had to accept pension cuts. Employees who worked in alternating shifts are particularly affected.

Geriatrician Eric Hilf says that money is often a problem even today. It is all the more important to motivate seniors to exercise and cultivate friendship. Most of them are far too humble to complain loudly about financial worries. Sure, there were protests against the retirement age at 67. Most old people, however, are frugal in everyday life. “And, seriously, those who work longer are physically active longer. In this respect, there is little medically speaking against retirement at 67, ”explains Hilf. Psychologist Huxhold also says that not everyone who worked in old age did so for the money. Many just wanted to stay active and get involved.

Ulrike Müller does not want to be deprived of her confidence. “I know colleagues from the administration who get less pensions.” Müller has already phoned a sports club and checked the course plans at the adult education center. "I might find an English course." That could help her travel.

An 85-year-old ex-librarian lives just ten minutes by car from Müller, at the gates of the capital in Brandenburg. She also recently wanted to go on vacation - but forgot to tell her daughters when and where to go. When the lady did not respond to a call at home for a week, the family checked the apartment with the spare key: she was not there. The rooms were tidy, a household accident ruled out.

Was the lady wandering around confused, was there a traffic accident? Report of missing persons to the police.

After much puzzling over, the 85-year-old's son-in-law found travel cancellation insurance for a vacation on the Black Sea under a pile of papers - but without specifying a hotel. This was followed by the elaborate telephone calls to Bulgarian hotels: the senior citizen could be found safely on the golden sands after a few days.

“That certainly won't happen to me,” says Ulrike Müller. “I have a cell phone!” Another thing that makes it easier for retirees today. To make sure that she doesn't waste any time, she made a list, a to-do list, her sons would say.

Monday: senior sports.

Tuesday: If you can, to the cinema.

Wednesday: borrow a new book?

Thursday: Adult Education Center.

Friday: talk to the sons.

Saturday: If it works, meet an ex-colleague for dinner.

Sunday: Well, Sunday. To lie on the couch?! "Like before, after a long week."

The magazine for medicine and health in Berlin: "Tagesspiegel Gesund - Fit and calmly grow older".

Further topics of the edition: What biology says.An aging researcher explains why and how the body changes in the course of life. Fountain of youth.Which foods keep you fit for a long time. Fit for the grandchildren.Sport in a club is fun and strengthens family life. Sex in old age.Even at the age of 70 or 80, people don't want to do without lust. The power of plants.Do gingko, green tea or ginseng help against age-related complaints? Purchase advice. Which vision aids and hearing aids are really worthwhile and when. Dial the emergency call. Safe at home despite her illness. Helpers yes, carers no! How useful can robots be. Medicine for Aging. Geriatrists - the specialists for seniors. Always stay smart.Effective training for the brain. Cataract. How the cloudy lens becomes clear again. Weak bones. Osteoporosis is treatable. Diabetes. What works against the sugar. Dangerous cocktail.Too many medicines are harmful. Out of the dark.How to Escape Depression. Also: A comparison of clinics and medical practices.

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