Did you ever have a pen pal? If you didn’t, chances are your parents or grandparents did at one time. For those born in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s having a pen pal was a popular way to get to know someone who may have lived across the country, or even oversease. It was fun to write and eagerly anticipate receiving a letter or postcard in return.
Fast forward to today’s environment and we see so many young people communicating via text and video chat. It’s nothing for them to pick up an iPhone and engage with a contemporary on the other side of the world. But for many older of those individuals who are feeling isolated, especially during this pandemic, having a pen pal provides a means of connecting to someone with whom they can share stories and experiences. This can be especially effective for individuals with dementia who often can recall past hobbies and passions more readily than recent events.
Recognizing this potential for individuals with dementia to build new, purposeful experiences, Willowbrook Place Memory Care our Anthem Memory Care community in Littleton, Colorado, started up their own pen pal program, reaching out into the greater community to those who might want to correspond with their residents. Each participating resident shared their personal interests and was matched with someone outside the community who shared some of their favorite hobbies and pastimes.
The response has been overwhelming! Once the program got started, Willowbrook started receiving hundreds of letters and cards each day from people who were eager to connect with their residents and learn more about their unique backgrounds and personal stories.
Staff members reported receiving an average of 300 letters per day!
And there are some beautiful stories. Willowbrook staff member recently noticed that one of their residents, Glenn (pictured below) who had loved to hike in his early years, had tears in his eyes while reading a letter from his pen pal, also a hiker. They asked him why. “They are tears of joy,” he responded. “This takes me back to my hiking days!”
Below are a few more images of some very special Willowbrook Place residents, holding placards to describe their perfect pen pals!
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, consider finding them a pen pal. There are many pen pal programs available to connect seniors with like-minded individuals located in virtually all corners of the world.
You can help them put their letters together and, together, share the anticipation of receiving a response. As we all know, this pandemic has kept so many seniors isolated from their loved ones. Having a pen pal is a great way to lift the spirits and gain a renewed sense of connectedness; something needed now more than ever!