My kids‘ great-grandma on their Dad’s side is turning 90 this coming Friday. 90!!! She lived through the Second World War, brought up 2 children while working full time, and has enjoyed the company of 2 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. And she still lives in her own apartment, cooks for herself and for the younger generations that come by to visit her from time to time. For me, this is so mind-boggling that somebody can live that long, and still be independent and self-sufficient. True, she suffers from certain age-related problems like sleep and digestion problems and she has seen her friends and others of her generation die one by one. But her heart is beating strongly and her brain is far from being senile. And she is mobile, even if rather slow.
Every time we go and visit Ur-Oma as we call her in German, I always wonder about my own longevity. My own parents lived till their 70s but during the last few years of their lives, they were bedridden, and my mom even had dementia. Will I live as long as Great Grandma without disability?
Germany, with a life expectancy of 80 years, is among the top 25 countries when it comes to longevity of its population, according to the most longevity of its population, according to the most recent statistics from the World Health Organization. Yet, living up to 90 in this country is pretty remarkable, so remarkable that our Great-Grandma will be visited by the pastor and the local mayor this coming Friday, who will personally congratulate her on behalf of the congregation and the town.
I am happy to observe that unlike the elderly of Japan who live alone, unattended, and unaccounted, most senior citizens in Europe are well-taken care of. In our local weekly newspaper here in a small Swiss town where we live, the birthday greetings for senior citizens share the same page with the obituaries. And the former usually outnumbers the latter.
You would say that such an observation highlights the problems facing our developed society: aging population and skyrocketing health care costs, low birth rate and negative population growth.
According to German and Danish researchers on aging issues:
“Increasing numbers of people at old and very old ages will pose major challenges for health-care systems. Present evidence, however, suggests that people are not only living longer than they did previously, but also they are living longer with less disability and fewer functional limitations.”
The last statement is the silver lining to cloud of impending demographic crisis that experts are warning us about. Living long should not enough. Like Great Grandma, living to a very ripe age and still be healthy and sound in body and mind should be our goal in mind. Happy Birthday, Ur-Oma!