Marsilius Project: Perspectives of Ageing in the Process of Social and Cultural Change
“Perspectives of ageing” is an interdisciplinary project linking issues from human medicine, the humanities and the social sciences. It focuses on the social environment in which ageing takes place and on individual factors relating to health and cognitive impairments.
Demographic change is profoundly altering demands and expectations regarding the ageing process. The ability of older employees to innovate and adapt is becoming ever more important for society, their organisations and the actors themselves. What can social and labour market policies achieve in terms of fostering flexibility? How can health policies contribute to preventing health and cognitive impairments? Conceivably, preventive measures could be both relations-based, focusing on shaping the social environment, and behaviour-based, aiming to influence individual risk behaviour; this would enhance the flexibility and also the health and cognitive resources of older employees.
The project aims to analyse these levels of activity and their interaction, in order to identify risk and protective factors, which are vital significance for developing preventive measures. Current epidemiological studies show that an active lifestyle counteracts health and cognitive impairments in old age, and can impede their development. In this context, the cognitive reserve plays a key role. It denotes a suspected capacity of the brain to compensate for age-related deterioration processes, at least to a certain degree. Starting from the idea of cognitive reserve, previous attempts at an explanation, which have been mainly discipline-specific, are to be combined in relation to work-related integration, state of health and cognitive performance. The aim is to produce a comprehensive model of ageing processes going beyond illness-centred approaches. This differentiation and clarification is of utmost significance in developing effective forms of intervention. The database jointly used for defining the cognitive reserve derives largely from the ILSE and the ESTHER studies.
The project first considers the various factors in differential terms. The projects „Social policy regulation of employment of older workers”, „Labour conditions and cognitive resources of older workers” and “The protective function of education for healthy ageing” examine the impact of higher-level social policy frameworks on the way older employees are integrated into the world of work and their transition to the post-work phase. These include institutionally enabled flexibility, structural flexibility in work relations and, possibly, structures impacting on personal educational careers. Further, the project “Age stereotypes in the cultural memory” studies age-related stereotypes (ageism) in society, the media and the workplace. Projects relating to health and cognitive performance and identifying preventive factors are “Cardiovascular diseases and cognitive impairment”, “Social determinants of health behaviour and health”, “Cognitive reserve in old age” and “Language in the preclinical state of Alzheimer’s disease”.
The second research stage will concentrate on the above-mentioned interaction between social environments and individual factors relating to personal history, or rather, individual factors, state of health and cognitive performance. The interactions involved do not just describe connections between the areas mentioned; they are also starting points for new intervention strategies.