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08.08.2013 - Ausgabe: 4/2013

On the path to a town where life is long and good

By Marita Gerwin (social education graduate) and Martin Polenz (geography graduate)


Arnsberg is in the midst of the process of becoming a town where life is long. By 2030 the proportion of citizens over the age of 65 will have risen by 23 percent. The number of those over 80 will rise from 4,100 at present to 5,800 in 2030. The changing age structure is in turn changing the demands made on the local infrastructure. In a way, it can be said that a substantial part of the population is “growing out of” the town, is no longer using or cannot use existing institutions and offers, and is instead developing new expectations.

Towns and municipalities face the challenge of meeting these challenges. In recent years, the town of Arnsberg has made considerable efforts to become a town, where life is long and good.

Citizen participation

The survey of a total of 28,000 citizens aged over 50 in 1995 was a milestone in confronting the issue of an “ageing society”. The main question “How do I want to live when I am older?” brought the complex issue of demographic change back to the level of personal life. The survey triggered a lively public debate on the subject, one that continues today. That debate resulted in a concept, which aimed at creating good local conditions for an ageing society. In its current version, it bears the title “A better quality of life in old age – Shaping the future of old age in Arnsberg”.

Adjusting notions of old age

What does it mean to grow older? What characterises old and advanced age? Before we create local offers and structures for older citizens, we have to reflect on our notions of old age. The main challenge is to accommodate the diversity of old age. Just as the biographies of our older citizens are many, varied and individual, their interests, needs and potential in old age are also many, varied and individual. Thus we need a broad range of local offers that accommodate this diversity.

Developing new structures

The ageing society requires appropriately modified structures, in administration too. In 2000 a “future agency”, which is responsible for the town’s strategic response to demographic change, was created in Arnsberg. There experts work together to manage the town’s infrastructural, social and cultural developments. In this way, the organisational conditions are provided for the interdisciplinary support and shaping of processes of decline in population and ageing. The municipally sponsored Engagementförderung Arnsberg was founded to promote and support the civic involvement of citizens of all ages. It offers committed citizens premises, skill development, expert input, a reliable framework and professional support.

The Fachstelle Zukunft Alter (Shaping the future of old age agency)

Its area of responsibility is divided among the following fields of action:

- Supporting active old age
The overwhelming majority of Arnsberg’s older citizens live independently. The phase of life following their working lives comprises many years. It is the task of the administration to support them in their possibilities and tap into their potential. Its fields of action:
o Enabling lifelong learning
o Enabling civic involvement in old age
o Promoting ageing in good health
o Promoting high-quality social and health services
The number of older people in Arnsberg needing support will increase significantly. At the same time, it is already becoming apparent that there is a lack of those offering support (both professionals and committed citizens). The support of those requiring care is, for example, organised and provided by public authorities, charitable organisations, commercial bodies and private individuals and groups involved on a civic basis. Arnsberg endeavours to network the different actors in the provision of care and support, to combine offers and to improve the availability of those providing assistance. Support for helpers from civic society is a main focus.

- Promoting solidarity and cooperation between the generations
In an ageing society, the question of relationships between the generations is also renegotiated. Addressing and interacting with the “respective others” is an important prerequisite for understanding and respect. The town of Arnsberg promotes the possibilities for encounters and dialogue between the generations. Residential and non-residential facilities for senior citizens, old people’s homes and day care facilities are opening in Arnsberg to integrate children and young people into everyday life.

Dementia – A key topic

Ongoing demographic changes mean that the number of people with dementia is rising. More and more families, neighbourhoods and groups of friends are experiencing this and are affected by it. Working together to make possible a better life with dementia means becoming active locally. Enquiring about, developing and networking the local potential for support is a municipal task. This task cannot be carried out by central government, but only by municipalities. And they must perform this task, because it is their citizens who are affected! In Arnsberg this is taking place on the basis of and through the involvement of local networks and structures. The model project Arnsberger Lern-Werkstadt Demenz (the Arnsberg dementia learning workshop), sponsored by the Robert Bosch Foundation, has taught us that:

– the taboos surrounding the topic of dementia can be removed quickly and successfully. The consequence: more knowledge, more prevention, better support from the family, as well as more and better support of those affected and their families from committed citizens and professionals. The prerequisite: the town must take on the responsibility – things won’t happen just by themselves.
– A better life with dementia is possible if we closely and individually link family support, professional support and civic engagement. The prerequisite: openness to each other, information and advice at an early stage, skill development and local networks. The town initiates, networks and supports.
– Of particular importance is the provision of advice at an early stage, which is not deficit-orientated, but which examines the individual potential of those affected and their families, and matches up and mediates support from professionals and volunteers. Individual, flexible and varied possibilities for support emerge, which were previously completely unknown to us.
– The new support for people suffering from dementia and their families makes the town more socially productive and livelier. Via the topic of dementia it brings generations together and creates social cohesion.

The measures outlined here show the variety of tasks facing towns and municipalities where life is long. In Arnsberg, together with local actors, we have set out to shape the process together.






Photo: Katja Burgermeister, Susanne Kern, Ted Jones,


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