01.09.2014 At first hand

Editorial Andrea Arz de Falco. The French general and statesman Charles de Gaulle once said: "Old age is a shipwreck". This comparison accurately illustrates what people long thought about old age. In earlier times life was often no more than a fragment, people regularly died young. But those who lived to an advanced age often experienced it as an affliction, once the work and family that had given meaning to their lives were gone and physical ailments and loneliness increasingly set in.

Pictures At first hand


Life expectancy in Europe has more than doubled in the last two hundred years. These extra years are a gift to us, a new and hitherto unknown window of opportunity. Many people make active use of it, continuing to work full- or part-time, discovering new talents or skills in themselves, travelling, engaging in sport or helping to bring up their grandchildren. This third age, free as it is from many of the pressures of everyday life, also enables us to reflect on our own lives and, just as importantly, develop a new understanding of the world around us. The collective memory, the awareness of where we have come from, takes on a new quality because children no longer experience only their parents, but often two sets of grandparents and sometimes even great-grandparents.

However, the ageing of society also has disadvantages. They include the acute shortage of care facilities for the elderly, soaring healthcare costs and the increase in non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular, chronic respiratory and musculoskeletal diseases. For many people, old age is also associated with financial pressures, loneliness and depression.    

When it comes to life expectancy, we in the industrialised countries are world leaders. However, this top ranking also obliges us to decide what purpose we want to give our increasing longevity and how we want to spend the third phase of our lives. It is my firm conviction that we need to create an awareness that a healthy lifestyle translates into quality and enjoyment of life. We also need to understand that it is largely responsible for making us physically, mentally and spiritually fit and healthy enough to live our lives and particularly our old age. We can all of us help ensure that the years we are "gifted" are actually experienced as a gift – and not as a shipwreck.

Andrea Arz de Falco
Head of the Public Health Directorate     
Vice-Director Federal Office of Public Health

Nach oben