At what age is life not worth living
Life in old age: take a positive view of old age!
Prof. Lang, you are an age researcher, from what age is a senior citizen?
Prof. Frieder Lang: This is not an easy question to answer. Because it depends very much on the respective perspective. Many people say yes, you are as old as you feel. But most of them only mean the feeling of being healthy. So when I'm fine I feel young In science or medicine, however, age is primarily determined by how independently someone can cope with everyday life. In football you are already in the senior class from 32.
Why is it that some feel old at the age of 60 or 65, while others are still in the middle of life at 80?
Long: This often depends on which skills each individual considers to be important. For example, those who have been proud of their excellent memory all their lives will experience it as a loss if they no longer immediately remember all names or dates. Others, however, take it easy. The demands on yourself are different.
As an age researcher, you are probably calling for more serenity, right?
Long: Yes. Because, the question is: does a person at 80 or 90 really still have to function as he did at 40 or 50? As age researchers, we advocate that every phase of life has its own rights and opportunities. One should not judge the later phase of life against the standards of young adulthood, where performance and success are a lot important. If, on the other hand, we measure life at 75 against the situation of centenarians, we may evaluate a lot more hopefully and also more realistically.
So is it all a question of perspective?
Long: It depends on the interpretation, because in every phase of life there are positives and negatives. We decide what to emphasize. One can ask: what makes my life worth living? For example, many consider their independence in old age to be important and they experience it as stressful when they could be in need of help. But if we take a closer look, we are dependent on the help or support of other people in every phase of life.
Nevertheless, there are people who experience old age as very difficult at a very early age - for example because of a serious illness ...
Long: Of course, old age usually also brings losses or losses with it. It shouldn't be a problem if you no longer feel like 50 when you are 70. On the contrary.
It is precisely this pressure that many elderly people in our society feel, who focus on getting old fit?
Long: It would be good if we develop a new culture of how society deals with old age. For example, we should show more appreciation for old age. Age harbors an enormous variety of opportunities and risks. No one is like the other. It would be good to show more consideration for the particular situation of each person.
It is not always in the power of the individual how he ages ...
Long: No certainly not. We differentiate between the aging style and the personal fate of old age, which depends on many factors. In doing so, we can accept our old age and learn to deal with it well. It is possible to shape one's quality of life in a positive way in old age, but of course all the more so the earlier one starts.
How early should you start?
Long: As quickly as possible. Basically, we age throughout life: while we are learning new things, we usually also unlearn something else. Our actions and how we think have a lifelong impact on our health. It is important to realize that we should handle our resources carefully and protect them, at all ages.
Does it really still pay off to start a healthier lifestyle in old age?
Long: Of course. A guiding principle in gerontology is: It's never too late to start a healthier lifestyle. There is no phase of life in which you do not feel the gains from eating a more balanced diet or exercising more frequently in a healthy manner. You can also feel the positive effects that social relationships bring with them immediately. Those who are older feel that immediately.
Many people are pushing their plans into retirement. Then great freedom should follow. A good strategy?
Long: It's one of many strategies. At first, many people really experience retirement as a great freedom, as a phase in which they can finally do what is important to them with the time they have left. But I also know people who have such a fulfilling job that they want to continue working and often do so too.
And then the retirement age throws a spanner in the works.
Long: One way, another different. There are people who count the days until retirement finally begins. One would like to see more commitment from employers here. We know that people who are valued at work are more satisfied with their job. Our retirement scheme is primarily intended to protect those who work in professions that are physically or mentally demanding. Then retirement is a good solution. But many would continue in their jobs if they could manage their own time.
How important is a meaningful activity for old age?
Long: Very important. It has been proven that people get old healthiest and live the longest when they pursue activities that they can experience meaningfully and that do not involve too much stress. That could be promoted a lot more.
But it is often difficult to find something suitable after retirement ...
Long: In the first five to ten years of retirement, many people are either completely new or increasingly involved in voluntary activities. But at some point it will decrease significantly. My impression is that in many associations and organizations the very old people around 80 years or older could be better integrated. Today the rule is: the elderly are allowed to participate, but they must not appear "old". We have to think and act in a more integrative way.
Does that mean we often discriminate against older people?
Long: Very often this happens quite involuntarily. Aging research must develop new concepts here in order to enable very old people over 80 to experience social participation in a positive way. It is also about the interpretation patterns that are used: How do we see age? Some things that initially appear bad are often not so bad at second glance. We can learn to interpret our aging more positively. Even the stressful situation of the need for long-term care harbors many opportunities.
Is it more difficult today because digitization is at the center of our business, our society and the elderly are often not trusted to always learn new things?
Long: Today, digitization primarily means acceleration in everyday life. And in many areas that might be a good thing. Many people experience this as positive. Because a lot works faster - if only it's the train from Munich to Berlin. But what many people also notice is that a lot is lost with the acceleration, for example the patience or the ability to pause and think. Older people often have just such skills.
Nevertheless, the question remains: how capable am I of learning in old age?
Long: Everyone can learn new things well into old age, maybe it is sometimes slower. Learning new things is particularly successful when it is learned on one's own initiative and the benefits are recognized. This is especially the case with older people, while younger people can even learn meaningless things.
But old age is also associated with many fears.
Long: Yes, unfortunately. But the downsides that old age brings with it can be countered with the opportunities that many, even undesirable, changes bring with them. Even when a partner or good friend dies, people sometimes experience that they can share their pain with others. I can also emerge stronger from such a situation. Age offers so many options. I just have to take it.
It is a great fear of developing dementia.
Long: My impression is that fear of dementia is more dangerous than dementia. Fear of dementia is a scourge: The threat posed by dementia is often overly dramatized. It is well proven that with optimal nursing care, people with dementia can also live quite well. The spread of dementia is also often overestimated. Many people with dementia are over 80 or 90 years old. So you have to get that old first. But if you ask older people about their greatest fear, dementia is the number one priority. And that sometimes has fatal consequences.
Long: Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of cases in which people kill themselves because they are experiencing the first signs of cognitive decline and perhaps even mistakenly believe that they have dementia. One should convey that a life with dementia can also be a beautiful life worth living. The unfortunate thing in our society is that although we spend a lot of money on the drug treatment of dementia, there is often little investment in research to improve the non-drug and nursing care of the very old and chronically ill people, especially in families .
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