Written by Noemi Lötscher in cooperation with Fabienne Aemisegger, STC, Embassy of Switzerland in Berlin
Germany, as many other countries, faces an aging society: It is believed that by 2050 one third of the German population will be aged over 64. The average age will rise from 45 in 2013 to almost 51 in 2050 (see Table 1). In 2013, Germany had the highest average age of all European countries. In comparison, the average age in Switzerland was 42 and in Turkey, it was 29 (Source: Eurostat 2016).
|Age||Million (2013)||% (2013)||Million (2050)||% (2050)|
The aging trend is not identical everywhere in German society. In former East Germany, almost every third person will be aged 64+ in 2030. In comparison, in former West Germany, 64+ reach a similar level only about thirty years later (Source: Destatis 2015). The Federal Statistical Office projects the German population to contract from 81.8 million people in 2015 to somewhere between 67.6 and 73.1 million by 2060, depending on migration (Source: Destatis 2015). The shrinking society is said to be Germany’s biggest growth-inhibiting problem. While it is commonly believed that the recent immigration of refugees will help to overcome the problem of the aging society, the Federal Statistical Office does not agree: The pace and the extent of the aging society can be reduced with refugees, but it cannot be stopped. (Source: Destatis 2016).
Three measures (amongst others) taken by the Federal Government
To counteract the aging society, the German government is taking various measures. First, retirement age just like in Switzerland, is a widely discussed topic. In 2007, German parliament broke a taboo and decided to gradually raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2029. Nowadays, the Federal Bank of Germany recommends going even further: Retirement age should gradually be raised to 69 by 2060 in order to avoid a decrease in retirement payments after 2030. Whilst economic policy-makers from the Union (CDU/CSU) welcomed this extra increase, Sigmar Gabriel, the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy (SPD), recently called this a daft idea (“bekloppte Idee”) (Source: Spiegel Online 16.8.16). Discussions and finding adequate solutions will be very challenging.
Another step to be introduced is the Education of qualified nurses for elderly care. To overcome the future estimated lack of qualified staff, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ), in cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Health, drafted a law to reform the nursing profession, which is currently subject to the legislative process. The reform offers a new generalist nursing degree with standardized professional qualifications. It combines the nursing of different ages such as elderly care, childcare and nursing care, which currently require separate apprenticeships. The new law should make the career more attractive and facilitate switching between different nursing needs (Source: BMFSFJ 2016).
Thirdly, the government is investing in research in order to prepare for the demographic changes. It is understood, that research in new technologies, which improve the quality of life in old age, can become a motor for future economic growth and occupation, opening up new opportunities to export ideas and products. The research investment in Germany is covered within the national cross-departmental research agenda for demographic change, called “The New Future of Old Age” (“Das Alter hat Zukunft”). Under the overall control of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the agenda was launched in 2011 and will end in December 2016 (Source: BMBF). It aims to find and develop new solutions, products and services to improve the quality of life in old age. The BMBF has spent about 415 million Euros. The agenda covers six different fields of research, with topics such as: “putting skills and experience of elderly people to use in economy and society”, “growing old in good health”, and “staying mobile and in touch”. In this article, the focus will be on the last topic.
Mobility in Old Age
Since elderly people are particularly prone to losing their mobility and thus their social network, mobility is an important topic in demographic change. Mobility enhances social and cultural inclusion and facilitates the independence of the individual. Especially in an aging society, in which a third of the population is expected to be older than 64 by 2050, it is essential that people do not become socially isolated.
Physical barriers are often the reason why elderly people no longer leave their homes. In Germany, accessibility is taken very seriously. In Berlin for instance, where the number of residents aged 80+ is expected to be 50% higher in 2022 than in 2014 (i.e., from 162’000 to 244’000) (Source: Stadtentwicklung Berlin 2016), public space is made more accessible by enlarging the sidewalks and the stops for public transportation (Source: Stadtentwicklungsplan Berlin 2011). Private transportation with driverless cars is another field to develop. In Germany, the country of cars, automotive vehicle research is supported by the government; for instance, laws are prepared for upcoming challenges and test tracks are provided. (Source. BMVI 2015, BMVI 2016).
Physical barriers are not the only reason for elderly people to stay at home. Other factors such as the reduction of cognitive abilities (disorientation, memory loss) can lead to social exclusion. Research is done in this field, through projects like “SenioMobil”. It is one of fourteen projects supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research within its funding measure “Mobile into Old Age – Smooth Mobility to Remove, Avoid and Overcome Barriers” (“Mobil bis ins hohe Alter – nahtlose Mobilitätsketten zur Beseitigung, Umgehung und Überwindung von Barrieren“) and contributes to the realization of the research agenda “The New Future of Old Age.” The projects were supported with a total of 20 million Euros and are a further step towards realizing the High-Tech Strategy of the German Federal Government, a national cross-departmental innovation strategy (Source: Project Descriptions BMBF).
SenioMobil, conducted by seven different partners including Fraunhofer IPMS and the University of the German Federal Armed Forces in Munich, supports the mobility of elderly people in urban areas. The aim of the project is the development of a system solution that supports elderly people in the maintenance of their mobility by providing them with a special wristwatch. It helps the user to handle different problems: First, it recognizes if the user falls and activates an emergency call, by transmitting the current position to a person of confidence. Second, if the user gets lost in town, he/she can simply touch the icon “navigation”. Since the user can save his/her home address, the system is able to navigate the user back home – either by foot or by using the public transport system. Additionally, an automatic taxi call is integrated in the system. Finally, the watch reminds the user to take their medication. It is an intelligent assistance system, which will keep senior citizens from being stigmatized and should be easy to use in daily life. The watch is already available as a prototype and is being developed further into a commercial product (Source: Fraunhofer IPMS 2013, Wilddesign 2013).
Germany puts a lot of effort and financial means into preparing for the aging society. We have concentrated on some of the aspects like SenioMobil, showing that even small projects can increase the mobility of a growing, senior population. As mobility can raise their quality of life decisively, research in this area is definitely justified.