A zest for life at ninety

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FAU study produces surprising insights into the living situations of elderly people

Are optimism and the will to live key to a long life and a high level of personal independence into old age? Gerontologists at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) think so. The researchers looked into what factors and options contribute to living longer and to the retention of personal autonomy. This primarily involved looking at the situation of elderly individuals who are not receiving acute medical treatment or living in institutional care. The goal was to identify those attributes and forms of behaviour that determine the health and quality of life of elderly persons who are still active to an above average extent.

Bavaria is home to some 107,000 women and men aged 90 years and older. A substantial majority of those in their nineties still live within the four walls of their own home. So far, little research has been undertaken about the medical status of this specific group of the elderly, comprising those who do not receive treatment for acute geriatric conditions or nursing care and who manage their daily lives largely independently.

In the initial findings of the Nuremberg study of ‘life in the tenth decade’, many of the seniors who were examined were found to have a positive perception of life and maintain an active lifestyle despite often serious health burdens and numerous medically diagnosed illnesses. In particular, it became apparent that these individuals have a remarkably strong willpower. With regard to the health of the ninety-year-old subjects in the study, they exhibited a broad range of individual physical problems. Despite this, most of the elderly who participated claimed to feel significantly younger than would be expected in view of their actual chronological age and health status. Of particular relevance to a zest for life and positive subjective perception of health in those in their nineties are physical activity, the existence of satisfying, close relationships of trust in their surroundings and the ability to cope with daily life on their own.

‘Given that to date there have been very few studies in this country of the situation of people who are 90 years of age and older who live in their own homes and do not require nursing care, it can be assumed that the results of our study will be applicable to and relevant for Germany as a whole. Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that the subjects also represent a specific subset of the population about whom little is currently known,’ says Prof. Dr. Frieder Lang, Chair of Psychogerontology at FAU and the study’s principal investigator.

On publication of the results of the study, Bavaria’s Minister for Health and Nursing, Melanie Huml, took the opportunity to encourage elderly people to enjoy active social participation for as long as possible. Huml emphasised: ‘It is important to stay fit during retirement and use commonsense measures to bolster one’s own health, such as exercise and a healthy, balanced diet. However, social relationships are also of great importance. This is confirmed by the initial results of the study.’

The minister referred to her present campaign concentrating on health in the elderly, entitled ‘Mein Freiraum. Meine Gesundheit. In jedem Alter’ (My freedom. My health. At any age). As Huml explains: ‘We provide information to help people live more healthily and independently for as long as possible. Being physically active does not only improve health but, more importantly, mobility provides for an independent lifestyle – and specifically – allows for continued participation in society. The senior citizens surveyed here in Nuremberg are the best example of how this works.’

A total of 125 women and men in the age range 90 – 100 years took part in the study. They underwent examinations of their functional physical and mental capacities and answered a large number of questions about their living circumstances and outlook on life. The study was undertaken by the Chairs of Health Psychology and Psychogerontology at FAU in collaboration with Counselling for Healthy Elderly (BegA), a service supported by the Schöller Foundation.

Press information:

Prof. Dr. Frieder Lang
Phone: +49 911 5302 96100
Ipg-bega@fau.de

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