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Space Shrinkage - It is Reversible!

What a small world! It has become a saying that we hear often. I am still surprised at the casual manner those younger folks I mix with view travel.

Many have undertaken a gap year travelling the world to countries I only dream of visiting. The access to low-cost travel, no-frills airlines and more permeable country borders means travelling the world is no longer the preserve of the rich and famous. It wasn't always so. I come from a reasonably well-travelled family. My father was in the RAF in the 1950s and early 1960s and had a couple of postings overseas. On one occasion the Ministry of Defence's preferred method of travel to deploy the family was for us to all go by sea on a liner! My real memories of this are vague, and probably created more by watching old cine films and hearing the recollections of parents and older siblings than remembering the experience of travel. My earliest memory of overseas travel was our first foreign holiday - on a package tour to Majorca in the 1970s. The Hotel Haiti in C'an Picafort from memory - very exotic! Since that time, travel to foreign shores has become the norm - both for business and pleasure. 

I am often struck by how well-travelled the older people I meet are, despite the fact that this boom in international travel is a relatively recent phenomenon. Many enjoyed a bit of foreign travel at the request of the Government - either during the war or afterwards completing National Service. Others travelled for work or enjoyed the exponential increase in numbers of us taking foreign holidays in the 1980s and beyond. 

What also strikes me is how an older person's space shrinks as they get older. A good example is my mother-in-law, Betty. Betty was not well travelled until her later years. Her 'radius of operation' was her town with ventures a little further afield to the Lake District or Scotland on holiday. In her seventies, she enjoyed a trip to the USA to visit us in San Antonio, Texas as we were living out there. Egged on by some of our female friends she has a Mexico 'tick' on her passport to visit some of the markets there. So, in many senses, in her seventies, the 'world was her oyster'. Some twenty-plus years on, Betty's world isn't so big. She struggles to travel much beyond her local area as her frailty (and concomitant lack of confidence) has increased. Believe me, she's a spritely 96-year-old with few medical complications. However, she's experiencing something I see all the time - a phenomenon in older people that I call 'Space Shrinkage'.

Space Shrinkage is one of the by-products of ageing. A senior who once travelled the world can see their radius of operation or space shrink - incrementally over time - from the World, to a country, to a county, to a town, to a street, to their house and garden - sometimes down to just one room. On the radio today there was a discussion about the age beyond which it isn't safe for an older person to drive. How must it feel to have your independence taken away and your space - at a stroke - shrunk? Where the world was once your oyster, the oyster becomes your world. 

So what? Well, have you thought about how you might help an older person increase their space - with the right support and help, 'Space Shrinkage' is a reversible condition. You don't have to be a doctor or a specialist. You just need to have the right attitude, the right heart, some measure of patience and if you want to venture a little further - a car.

Have you thought about how you might help someone who lives close to you increase their space. To visit the beach or a park that has been beyond reach for years. Incidentally, Betty has recently received help to go swimming at the local swimming pool - for the first time in over 40 years. How magical is that!  Our summer will soon be here - now would be a great time to make an offer to a senior who lives close to you. Much of the 'Space Shrinkage' in older people is undiagnosed. We choose not to see it. Open your eyes and transform a life.  

John Kirk is a Senior Care Consultant with over 14 years’ experience in senior care including leading a large residential & nursing care home group, high quality care at home services and the provision of specialist consultancy services to residential, nursing and domiciliary care providers.  

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