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Germany

Tools for an Aging Society

As ever more people live long lives, scientists at the University of Munich have been exploring ways to make senior citizens' lives easier.

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Germany's population is rapidly graying

"Modern technology is very often distinguished by very intelligent, young, male engineers, who are right-handed, developing something that they can, not necessarily that people need," said Ernst Pöppel of the Institute for Generational Research in Bad Tölz. "And we try to give an indication that you can develop non-strenuous intuitive technologies."

Among other things, Pöppel and his colleagues at the university's institute explore the possibilities of developing cars and mobile phones that can be easily used without reading a thick instruction manual first.

The researchers have already designed a simple CD player for dementia patients, who often find they can no longer operate modern devices.

The roughly 15-centimeter (six-inch) tall cubes, or Tölz dice, as they are called, have a different color on each of their six sides. After being programmed, the dice play music according to whichever side they are resting on -- without any buttons or knobs to press. The dice could soon go into production.

Changing with age

Gerda Lott Senioren Universität in Leipzig

One of the Bad Tölz research projects involves examining to what extent people's hearing changes with age.

One hundred test people of all ages took part in one study to determine whether seniors are worse at recognizing different frequencies and sequences of tones worse than younger people.

Psychologist Jan Churan's research is similar but uses optical signals. He discovered that people's ability to recognize acoustic stimuli tends to remain constant as they age, but from age 60 recognizing visual stimuli becomes slightly worse.

"We haven't been able to observe any dramatic collapse," he said.

The Bad Tölz academics have also been exploring new media formats and are currently developing year-long courses fur those above 60 who want to be kept abreast of what's happening in the academic world beyond the pages of newspapers or the evening television news.

"There's a very astounding demand," Pöppel said.

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