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Study examines changes in health over time
People in Germany are getting significantly older on average today than a few decades ago. However, the question of the state of health in which these additional years of life are spent remains unanswered. Scientists from the Hannover Medical School (MHH) are investigating this in the “Morbidity Compression” project, for which initial results are now available. According to this, heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer tend to decline, but type 2 diabetes mellitus and multimorbidity have increased significantly.
In their investigation, the scientists investigate the question of whether we will gain healthy years of life in the course of increasing life expectancy or whether we would rather spend the additional time in sick condition. The answer is reassuring: "We are getting healthier old," summarizes Professor Dr. Siegfried Geyer, head of the project and medical sociology at the MHH.
Data from three million people examined
The “Morbidity Compression” project has been running since 2013, for which the data of three million insured persons from the AOK Lower Saxony are evaluated. The data cover a period of ten years (2006 to 2015). The project is financially supported by the AOK Lower Saxony and the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture and the first results are now available. According to this, 22 percent fewer men have a heart attack, stroke or lung cancer than ten years ago. In addition, at the time of the illness, the average age of 66 is around one year older than ten years ago.
Reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer
The risk of dying from a heart attack, stroke or lung cancer has also decreased by 22 percent, reports the MHH. In women, the already lower risk of developing one of the three ailments was even reduced by more than 30 percent in ten years. However, when the disease occurred they were just as old as they used to be (76 years on average) and they died just as frequently from the disease, according to the MHH.
Diabetes diseases more and more common
While lung cancer, strokes and heart attacks are on the decline, type 2 diabetes mellitus is fundamentally different. According to the researchers, rising rates of disease in the population can be seen here, especially among those under 40 years of age. "However, you can treat this disease better than before, so that you can live with it longer," emphasizes Professor Geyer. In addition, the risk of illness decreases with increasing level of education. "Diabetes is a lifestyle problem, especially obesity and exercise are primary problems," continued the study director.
According to the researchers, so-called multimorbidity is also increasing in the population. More and more people are affected by six or more diseases at the same time, some of which have to be treated with medication, but with which they can live well. This includes, for example, high blood pressure. It remains to be seen whether multimorbidity will necessarily increase when other diseases such as heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer decrease. In the next steps, the question would have to be clarified, "whether there is a shift from a few major to many small diseases that will occur later," says Prof: Geyer.
Flexibility of retirement age required
Overall, according to Professor Geyer, the results speak for "making the retirement age more flexible", because if the work is physically demanding, an earlier retirement age is appropriate, whereas it may make sense to shift the limit upward if the work is mainly intellectual. "But it is also about how a society should deal with the elderly in order to maintain their activity and mental agility for as long as possible," adds the expert. In order to remain physically and mentally healthy in old age, athletic and mental activity is particularly important. It is important to conserve resources - for example through regular reading and social activities with communication. (fp)