Living a self-determined life and getting older with great advice

Getting older raises many new questions and challenges. They run the gamut from health-related to very existential aspects such as old-age poverty for example. That’s why it helps to have competent experts available during this phase of life to ask for good advice now and then.


Photo: Elderly man looks at the woman he talks to; Copyright: Griessel

The older you get the more often you have questions that should be answered by a competent counseling center; © Griessel

Letters become increasingly blurred when you solve the crossword puzzle and you need to keep turning up your favorite music to actually hear it – yet at the first signs of aging, many people only reluctantly seek medical help. After all, once reaction time slows down or other limitations start occurring, people worry that this might entail potential drawbacks that restrict their quality of life.

Consultation for health issues

One interdisciplinary team has made it its mission to find out how people would deal with these worries and questions if they would not have to face them alone. In January 2016, the Institute for Psychogerontology at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg launched the "Beratung für gesundes Altern" (English: Advice for Healthy Aging), BegA project, where the researchers want to combine individual consultation with academic research. The model explicitly features a non-clinical design and the team wants to provide comprehensive and prevention-oriented advice.

The team of experts includes - among others - gerontologists, psychologists, physicians, social workers and occupational therapists and is aimed at people in the second half of their lives and their family members. During a non-binding initial consultation, current issues and questions such as what you can do to stay fit, how to eat healthy after the age of 50 and how to maintain your independence are being addressed.

The experts subsequently determine whether the person needs further counseling or an individualized diagnosis. In the future, interested parties also have the chance to participate in prevention programs and annual checkups.

The data collected as part of the BegA services is anonymized and scientifically analyzed. The research team focuses on various issues that are intended to ultimately improve the range of services and assess how effective the preventive measures are for the participants, how the cognitive performance of persons who chose to contact BegA due to subjectively perceived memory issues changes over time or how seniors deal with the voluntary decision to stop driving a car.

Fighting poverty in old age in Europe

For many, maintaining mobility is a lifelong important aspect that more and more people also perceive as a luxury. Oftentimes, it is not just their health status that leads them to no longer being able to take advantage of this luxury. As people get older, their financial situation can also force them to give up certain freedoms – such as driving a car for instance. Poverty among seniors is the big issue here.

Poverty among the elderly is increasing in Europe. Generally, this also means that people face increasing social exclusion at the same time. To prevent this from happening, the GRUNDTVIG Learning Partnership teamed up partners from Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. For two years, the "Social Inclusion and Dignity in Old Age - Promoting participatory approaches to use reference budgets" project investigated how self-determination of older people on a low income can be improved and how they can be assisted in living an active life with dignity.

Foto: Screenshot des Titelblattes des Leitfadens, zeigt eine Weltkarte und markiert sind die beteiligten Länder; Copyright: GRUNDTVIG

Für das Projekt "Social Inclusion and Dignity in Old Age - Promoting participatory approaches to use reference budgets" arbeiteten Vertreter aus Belgien, Bulgarien, Deutschland, Großbritannien, Polen, der Slowakei und Tschechien zusammen; © GRUNDTVIG

Numerous transnational workshops and a concluding "round table" in Brussels promoted the dialog among senior organizations and stakeholders in the social policy, consumer, financial and debt counseling sector. In a best practices report, all of the important information and recommendations were summarized after the completion of the two-year project.

The report states –among other things- that there is still a great need for comprehensive information, cooperative efforts and training to support the target group. However, the report also goes on to emphasize that it is especially important for older persons to remain active themselves and advocate for their needs. Their involvement plays a crucial role in forging a path for sensible measures on a political level and preventing poverty among the elderly.

Several countries in the GRUNDTVIG network such as Belgium or Bulgaria have already put solution-focused approaches into practice. The experiences made here have already been and will continue to be shared with all participating partner organizations for as many people as possible to benefit.

Raising awareness of seniors’ needs

It is especially important to raise awareness of the problems the elderly might face. The financial situation, in particular, does not only affect social contacts but often also impacts well-being. This frequently leads to a cycle that is difficult to break for older persons. That’s why raising awareness for their needs – on as many levels as possible – is the basis for all other social changes that hopefully result from this in the long run.

Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(Translated by Elena O'Meara.)