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GERMANS FORCED TO SEEK CARE ABROAD: Spiraling costs and falling standards are forcing growing numbers of Germans to seek retirement homes and long-term care far from home.

In 2011, researchers found an estimated 7,146 Germans living in retirement homes in Hungary, according to the Guardian (December 26/28, 2012). There were more than 600 in Slovakia, and more than 3,000 had been sent to homes in the Czech Republic. Unknown numbers have moved to Spain, Greece and Ukraine. Thailand and the Philippines are attracting increasing numbers.

Some choose to move because costs are lower, between a third and two-thirds of the price in Germany. Hannelore Könnemann, a 78-year-old former shop owner, is delighted with her new retirement home, a three-room flat on the banks of Lake Balaton in Hungary. "I’ve always been adventurous, and I have learned some Hungarian," she said.

Könnemann pays at least a third less than she would in Germany for accommodation, meals and medical care. And she touts the extras that are thrown in: daily fitness classes, twice-monthly house visits from a hairdresser and a pedicure.

One of Könnemann’s neighbours, Ilse Puderbach, 84, pays less than half of what she would have to pay in Germany to live at Senior Care. "But it is not what I would have chosen," she said.

The trend, nicknamed "oma export" ("granny export"), has stoked anger across the country.

As Sabine Jansen, head of Germany’s Alzheimer Society said: "In particular, people with dementia can find it difficult to orientate themselves in a wholly other culture with a completely different language, because they’re very much living in an old world consisting of their earlier memories."

But with one in 15 Germans (about 4.7 million people) expected to be in need of care by 2050, German MP Willi Zylajew concedes alternative forms of elder care will need to be considered, including foreign care.

Meanwhile, a variety of healthcare providers are opening homes in Eastern Europe and Asia dedicated to the care of older Germans.


ART PROGRAM A HIT WITH OLDER ADULTS: British physicians are prescribing art classes for older adults, and they are winning rave reviews from patients.

The Prescription for Art program is an offshoot of Good Times, an outreach program for older adults launched by London’s historic Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2005.

The art museum, which relies entirely on grants and donations, is home to a collection of Baroque old master paintings.

The Prescription for Art program was developed in partnership with family doctors. It was designed for individuals and carers who do not attend regular seniors groups, especially older men.

The monthly program is offered free of charge, and powered by a rota of artists and a team of committed volunteers.

Art activities are deliberately challenging and mentally stimulating. Sessions have included silk painting, sketching, lino printing, glass painting and clay work.

The refreshment break is a highlight of each two-hour session. Older adults mingle and chat as they enjoy tea, coffee, cake and fresh fruit.

A 2010 review by the Oxford Institute of Ageing (Oxford University, London, England) gave the program a ringing affirmation.

"It was lots of fun," remarked one participant. "I love the creative, relaxing aspects of the art."



CO-HOUSING ATTRACTS INTEREST: As the population ages, Canadians are reviewing their housing options.

New housing trends are increasingly on the radar, including co-housing, which has a long history in Denmark. Individuals have their own private space but share common areas like the kitchen and living room.

Co-housing projects already exist in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Dozens more are in the planning stages. They include projects for couples, singles, families and older adults.

In the meantime, the Canadian Cohousing Network has produced a sparkling six-minute video Building Community With Cohousing, that celebrates the benefits of intergenerational living.


WALKING THE ROAD OF LEARNING: An epic foot journey by journalist Paul Salopek follows the migration pathways of our ancestors, who walked out of Africa about 60,000 years ago.

In early January, Salopek began his seven-year trek from the small Ethiopian village of Herto Bouri. He will move across the Ethiopian desert, through the Middle East, Asia, hop over to Alaska, down the western United States to Central and South America and end in Chile.

On his 34,000-kilometre (21,000-mile) journey, Salopek will cross 30 boarders and walk along side people from diverse cultures and dozens of languages.

As he moves across the world, The National Geographic will publish his dispatches. You can follow his journey at the Out of Eden website.