Half of Germans fear dementia in old age

Half of Germans are scared of suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease, a survey published on Thursday found, making it second only to cancer among the nation's health fears. But neither of them is the nation's biggest killer.

Half of Germans fear dementia in old age
File photo: DPA

While exactly 50 percent of people were concerned about dementia, 68 percent feared a cancer diagnosis above all else, the survey for health insurer DAK-Gesundheit found.

The number saying they feared dementia or Alzheimer's disease increased by one percentage point over the figure for 2014, but short of 2011's peak of 54 percent.

Meanwhile, fear of cancer had fallen one percentage point since 2014 and was well short of its 2010-11 peak of 73 percent.

Young people were even more concerned about cancer than the over-60s, with 73 percent of 14 to 44-year-olds saying they were worried about the disease compared with 60 percent of seniors.

Close behind dementia among worries were serious accidents, stroke and heart attack, at 48 percent, 48 percent and 41 percent respectively.

Heart disorders ought to be top of Germans' priority list, as they were found to be the most common cause of death in a study published in June.

Germans see themselves as healthy

But the survey also found Germans feeling hale and hearty overall, with 86 percent saying they had good or very good overall health.

People in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg felt the healthiest, with 90 and 89 saying they were in good or very good health respectively, while the number fell to 81 percent in the former East.

And most people said they moderated their behaviour to keep themselves in good health.

Sport was the most popular choice, with 77 percent of respondents saying they regularly exercised to stave off disease.

Close behind were eating healthy at 71 percent, restricting alcohol intake, with 70 percent, and not smoking, at 63 percent.

But those respondents might have been telling porkies, as an OECD paper published in June finding that Germans were the biggest drinkers in western Europe, knocking back 118 litres of beer each year on average.

And 61 percent of people said they read a lot and sought out mental challenges to keep their brains agile in the hope of warding off dementia.

Disease of old age

While around 1.5 million people currently suffer from dementia in Germany, experts expect that number to double by 2050 as the population continues to age, DAK said in a press release.

The study found that the difficulty of predicting who might suffer from dementia was particularly worrying, as was the fact that those affected would likely need to depend on the care of others – reasons named by 70 and 71 percent of the respondents respectively.

DAK welcomed recent reforms of social care introduced by the government, but said more needed to be done to improve co-operation between GPs, specialist doctors and carers in the future as they treat growing numbers of dementia patients.

Polling institute Forsa questioned a representative sample of 3,500 people across the country for the survey.

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Explained: What are Germany’s planned new pension reforms?

Germany's cabinet has agreed on pension reforms that will benefit about 1.3 million people. Here's what it all means.

Explained: What are Germany's planned new pension reforms?
Photo: DPA

There's been months of bickering over plans to introduce the “Grundrente” (basic pension) – but on Wednesday Germany's plans for pension reform took a major step forward.

German ministers officially agreed to the reforms which for a time threatened to collapse the coalition between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU and the centre-left SPD.

From 2021 the government will spend €1.3 billion ($1.4billion) a year topping up the basic pensions of around 1.3 million low-income recipients, under a law now approved by Merkel's cabinet for deliberation by MPs.

“The creation of the new basic pension will contribute to more social justice in our country,” said SPD Labour Minister Hubertus Heil.

The two camps in the ruling coalition were at loggerheads for months over pensions in a country facing an ageing population.

A flagship SPD policy which the CDU had sought to block, the reform threatened to blow the government apart before the two sides reached a compromise in November.

READ ALSO: Merkel's coalition reaches deal on Germany's pension reform

Labour minister Heil claimed the reform would benefit “women in particular”, especially those in low-paid service jobs.

He gave the example of a hairdresser who, having worked 40 years at the minimum wage, would see their monthly pension rise from €512 to €960 under the new system.

He added that the top-ups would also be a boon for those in the former communist east, where economic uncertainty and lower spending power have contributed to the rise of the far right in recent elections.

Hubertus Heil in Berlin. Photo: DPA

The reform is above all a victory for the SPD, which continues to languish in the polls despite the surprise election of a new, left-leaning leadership duo in November.

READ ALSO: How to maximize your German pension even if you retire elsewhere

What exactly is the 'basic pension' (Grundrente)?

The basic pension is a supplement or top-up to the pension entitlements of low-income earners who have clocked up at least 33 years of contribution through work, child-raising or caring for relatives. It is intended to help those who currently receive a small pension, and for those at risk of old-age poverty.

The parties agreed on implementing a “comprehensive income test” so that the new system really helps people in need – a previous sticking point for the coalition.

It will be introduced on January 1st 2021 and applies to those who have already retired and future pensioners.

Who will benefit?

About 1.3 million people will receive higher payments starting next year.

The supplement will initially be staggered – at 35 contribution years it will reach its full level. In addition, only those with an income below certain limits will receive a basic pension.

READ ALSO: How does Germany's pension system measure up worldwide

What are the income limits?

The full supplement is paid to those whose monthly income as a pensioner is a maximum of €1250 (single person) and €1950 euros (spouse or partner).

Income above this limit should be credited at 60 percent of the basic pension. With an income of €1300 euros for a single person, €50 would be credited at 60 percent – and the basic pension would be €30 lower.

If the income is more than €1600 or €2300, respectively, it should be credited in full 100 percent towards the basic pension supplement.

For example, if a married couple has an income of €2400, the basic pension is reduced by €100.

How is it requested?

No-one needs to apply for the basic pension – data and income should be checked automatically. But it's a pretty complicated system to work out which will mean Rentenversicherung (pension insurance) employees will have a lot of work to keep on top of.

How is it worked out?

It's complicated but here's a couple of examples published by German broadcaster Tagesschau.

Example one: a secretary in western Germany with 38 insurance years plus two children: only 26 years would be taken into account for the basic pension, because in the other years she received contributions that were less than 30 percent of the average wage. In the 26 years, however, she received 70 percent. Her pension is €754 per month – the basic pension top up would be €75.

Example two: a saleswoman in Dresden with 39 years of work and 60 percent of the average wage without other income receives a pension of €746 – and would get a supplement of €195 under the reforms.

What else is included in the legislative package?

More support will be given to those who have received very low wages. Those who have paid into the pension fund for 33 years, but have earned particularly little and need more support, will receive a tax-free allowance of initially a maximum of €216.

Other support initiatives are also being discussed.

As you can imagine, none of this is cheap: the total costs for the government for the legislative package are slated to rise to €1.9 billion in 2025.

It will be financed from tax revenues, but how this money will be raised – and if it will result in higher taxes for workers – is still unclear.

Is everyone happy?

According to the DPA press agency, trade unions and social organizations have welcomed the basic pension plans, but believe proposals could go even further to benefit low-income citizens.

Meanwhile, employers say the plans do not target poverty in old age enough – and say they are too expensive.