Older and happier?

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Europe is one of the world’s “oldest” regions. This refers to the comparatively high average age of the population, namely 39. Increased life expectancy and a low birth rate are responsible for this demographic shift. One in five people in Germany today is older than 70, a figure which could rise to one in three by 2040. But how are people over the age of 70? Better than those of the same age 20 years ago is one of the key findings of the Berlin Age Study (BASE).

Are extra years of life good years?

For the purposes of this long-term study, scientists first began surveying and studying more than 500 Berlin residents between the ages of 70 and 100 in the early 1990s. 20 years later, the same age group in Berlin was assessed once again and the results were compared to the previous study. On average, 75-year-olds enjoyed better mental fitness and were also happier than those of the same age 20 years ago. The “new” old people felt less lonely and were able to live more independently.

Less lonely and more content

What is the reason for this – apart from the fact that medical treatment has improved? Today’s senior citizens appear to be more inquisitive and more willing to try something new, and they have more contact with other people, which makes them more content. It is not known for certain whether this kind of lifestyle can also protect against memory loss – the study proves only that there is a correlation. It has yet to be determined what is the cause and what is the effect.

Many factors

There are many factors which determine how a person ages. This is why many scientists from all kinds of different disciplines collaborated on the study: doctors from Berlin’s Charité hospital and psychologists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Developmentin Berlin. The German Institute for Economic Research supplied data relating for example to the lives and incomes of the demographic in question, while immunologists at the University of Tübingen explored the relationship between inflammatory conditions in the body and longevity.

Genetic factors

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Lübeck are also involved. They have found indications that genetic factors also influence whether a person feels content with their life despite illness and old age. Whether they are young or old, there appear to be people who are genetically predisposed to deal more positively with setbacks, stress and problems than other people are.

Urban planners are also interested in the findings

External factors also dictate how content older people are – for example how mobile they are outside their homes, and whether they have doctors nearby and neighbours who are willing to help them. Such insights help urban planners and local politicians create an environment in which senior citizens feel comfortable and at ease:

  • with shops and doctors available nearby,
  • with access to public transport and
  • with meeting places to promote good neighbourliness.

Ultimately, this will benefit all generations.

BASE II – Berlin Age Study

Life expectancy levels are rising in Germany and worldwide. The scientists involved in the Berlin Age Study II (BASE-II) are researching how these additional years can be enjoyed actively and in the best possible health. BASE II is the follow-up to the Berlin Age study (BASE).

www.base2.mpg.de