Are people made to live forever

Elderly people

Hygiene, nutrition and medicine have made tremendous advances over the past hundred years. A look at the average life expectancy shows this impressively: A man aged 65 today can assume on average that he will live for another 17 years. For a woman of the same age, it is 20 years. Statistically, anyone born today as a boy can look forward to 78 years of age, a girl to 83 years. All in all, we live around twice as long today as we did 100 years ago (Federal Statistical Office).

But modernity has not only brought about a higher life expectancy. It has also resulted in fewer children being born in many countries. Both together lead to a phenomenon that science calls the demographic aging of the population. The well-known population pyramid with many young and a few older people is changing into a population tree in which the "older semesters" dominate. In 2060, one in three people in Germany will probably be over 65 years of age. In 2065, every eighth person is even more than 80 years old.

Age: What is that actually?

For the individual, aging is a phenomenon that has personal, social and physical dimensions. The performance of the body generally decreases with age, although the point in time at which this becomes noticeable can be very different.

The situation is more complicated when it comes to mental performance. Older people tend to have a harder time learning new things than young people. Short-term memory, responsiveness and sensory performance tend to deteriorate. Conversely, life experience increases, which can compensate for a lot.

What needs do older people have when their health is impaired? And how would you like to be looked after? Answers to questions like these are provided by the "Studies of supply and nursing research for elderly and very old people". The participating scientists develop and examine the effects of supply and care concepts that are specially tailored to the needs of older people. The focus is on factors such as self-determination, social participation and health-related quality of life.

Multimorbidity and polypharmacy

Many elderly people suffer from several diseases at the same time. In this case, experts speak of multimorbidity. The consequence of this is that the existing symptoms may not, under certain circumstances, be clearly assigned to a specific disease.

Much more than with young people, care must be taken in old age that all therapies harmonize well with one another. Because multimorbid people often take many different drugs. This can lead to an intensification of adverse drug effects and lead to significant health problems.

Actively prevent diseases

But older people can also improve their health and prevent diseases in a targeted manner. Regular sport and exercise as well as a healthy, balanced diet are just two of many examples here. Successful prevention and health-promoting measures have two effects: They increase well-being and health and at the same time harbor potential savings for health and social systems.

The scientists of the research network "AEQUIPA - Physical Activity, Justice and Health: Primary Prevention for Healthy Aging" develop, test and evaluate exercise programs for older people. Your goal is to develop an offer that specifically counteracts the aging process - for example muscle loss - and appeals to senior citizens equally. The offers are intended to motivate older people to exercise more through the use of assistive technologies. In addition, the researchers work with selected municipalities to develop community health promotion strategies. In this way, researchers and actors from practice and politics work closely together so that the offers actually reach people.

Protection against infection is also very important for the elderly. Because infections are often more severe in old age than in younger people. The Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) of the Robert Koch Institute therefore recommends an annual vaccination against seasonal flu and at least one vaccination against pneumococci, the causative agent of pneumonia, for all people over the age of sixty.

Age as a medical and social challenge

Increasing aging poses major challenges for medicine and society: How can older people be able to live independently in their familiar social environment, within their own four walls? What needs to be done to maintain physical and mental performance and quality of life in old age? How can an efficient care system be organized for an increasing number of chronically ill people when, at the same time, less money is available due to demographic change? Questions like these have only been partially answered so far. Research can make an important contribution here by checking new supply concepts and innovative technologies for their suitability.

In many areas there are no scientifically proven recommendations for the care of the elderly. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has therefore the "Promotion of clinical studies with high relevance for the care of older and very old patients" brought to life. The measure supports clinical studies, systematic reviews and methodological research projects that help to meet the needs and wishes of older people.