May 24, 2021

Providing Companionship for Older Adults: Become a Pen Pal

Senior looking at letter

The pandemic has given the general population a deeper understanding of what life is like for older adults who may experience loneliness on a regular basis.

And though we all have struggled to make connections during COVID-19, older adults have been overwhelmingly impacted due to strict social distancing measures and limited interactions. Nobody knows this better than caregivers, who may have been their only social contact over the past year.

While continuing to follow precautions is necessary to keep many vulnerable populations safe, the need for connection has never been greater. In fact, almost half of Canadian seniors (57%) feel they have connected less to their loved ones since the start of the pandemic. 

“Loneliness is one of the most devastating issues facing our aging population, but it’s also something we’re capable of addressing,” says Erin Albers, Vice President of Social Purpose at Home Instead. “After a year of isolating at home, we need a little creativity and a lot of intention to ensure regular contact with neighbours and loved ones, even as some social distancing measures are relaxed. A simple act of kindness, such as writing a letter, can really brighten the day of an older adult.”

National Pen Pal Day: How to Get Involved

Caregivers work every day to help the aging population feel connected and supported; now is the perfect time to get others involved. To help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, Home Instead is encouraging people to make a difference in their community by writing a letter to an older adult on National Pen Pal Day (June 1).

Generations of writers have created lasting friendships by becoming a pen pal. To help fight loneliness, Albers suggests writing a letter to an older adult, or organizing a group to do so, through Ready to Care’s Pen Pal initiative:

  • How can I get involved? Writers can submit a letter and/or photo online at ReadyToCare.com/penpals. From there, Home Instead will screen each letter for safety and security and pass it along to an aging adult. Participants must be age 13 or above, unless the submission is coordinated by a parent or teacher.
  • What should I write about? The sky’s the limit! Have fun with it – include details such as the hobbies you enjoy, your favourite books and movies, a positive moment of your day or upcoming plans you’re looking forward to. Keep in mind you should not share personal or financial information, such as dates you will be out of town or passwords. For more ideas, check out our blog.
  • How can I keep the conversation going? Request to receive a letter in return by sharing your email or mailing address online. Keep the conversation flowing by asking an older adult to share a fact or story with you.
  • How can I get others involved? Pass along information on the program to school teachers or summer camp counselors looking for new ways to engage kids, or reach out to a church leader who wants to provide more outreach to their congregation. Many organizations would love to brighten the lives of lonely older adults in their communities. Download one of our free pen pal toolkits to get started.
  • Why should I participate? Pen pals help a segment of the population that often gets overlooked – older adults. It’s also an opportunity for those other than caregivers and families to connect with older adults in their communities and spread some much-needed joy.

Connecting in these unique, personal ways isn’t a thing of the past – it can speak volumes. For lonely older adults, it may be among the few interactions they’ve had in a long time. Join a network of over 10,000 Pen Pals by visiting www.ReadyToCare.com.