Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In Germany, as in most other European settings, dramatic demographic change is underway, with marked increases in the numbers of elderly people requiring care. At the end of 2011, there were approximately 2.5 million such people in Germany, 30 percent of whom were receiving care in some 1,000 nursing homes. Demographers and health care specialists expect those numbers to rise to rise to 3.4 million in 2030, with a growing percentage of people taken care of in nursing homes. The quality of care in Germany in regard to cleanliness, hygiene and nutrition is relatively high due to rising standards. At the same time, because of understaffing, low rates of family visits and little community involvement, there often is a lack of emotional care for elderly, leading also to a lack in happiness and sense of belonging: in short, low quality of life.
With a growing number of old people in need of care living away from from their families, connections between generations are increasingly lost. Fewer children are growing up in households with elderly relatives in need of care. At the same time, however, the young generations will be the ones having to shoulder the effects of demographic change in the future. For instance, one retiree today is financed by four working adults through social security payments and taxes. However, in 2040, it is estimated that with population growth, longer life span and rising healthcare costs, only two employees will be paying for each retiree and will have to shoulder even more of a burden than they do now. This generation will thus drive the reallocation of resources. Thus, from this generation, more people are needed who are willing to engage in working with and for the care of senior citizens.
Many stakeholders have realized this challenge and set up programs throughout past years in order to deal with the social effects of demographic change. Several of them focus on further integrating elderly who are retired but still active. This is important work that unfortunately leaves a gap: elderly who do no longer fit our framework of activeness and productivity (referred to as members of society in their “fourth age”). More attention given to active years leads to a situation in which this aging population in need of care is neglected in the public sphere.
Apart from negative individual effects – for old and young – this loss of intergenerational exchange bares a multi-dimensional risk for society as a whole. The intergenerational contract needs to be written in new terms, something that will only work when empathy among generations is fostered and the creation of generational silos in society is avoided.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Addressing important societal consequences of major demographic change, Horst Krumbach is developing new opportunities for intergenerational exchange and understanding in Germany under the aegis of an organization that he founded in 2009, Generationsbrücke Deutschland (GBD), (“Bridging Generations, Germany”). Employing a carefully structured methodology, he is building meaningful relationships between children in primary schools and elderly inhabitants of nursing homes by facilitating recurring, one-on-one meetings been the children and their “grandpartners” and introducing, thereby, an important new dimension into the quality of life of both the elderly and the young participants in the program. With his readily scalable model, Horst is creating spaces for young people to develop empathy, emotional ties, and understanding for old people in need of care and affection in the last years of their lives.
Through this initiative, Horst is working towards systems change at a rapidly escalating scale. To facilitate the expansion of his initiative, he has developed a strategic and highly visible public relations initiative and similarly effective policy advocacy work at the federal and state levels. With the aid of an expert and highly visible Advisory Board, he has developed a very promising scaling strategy that will expand his initiative to a national scale.