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The Benefits of Senior Pen Pal Programs

Senior woman writing a letter

When you can’t go see friends and loved ones, it’s time to get creative about how we stay connected. FaceTime, Zoom, and other types of video calls are one way to do that. But there’s a no-tech solution that’s become popular again during the pandemic – writing letters. 

At Westminster Place, residents have been part of a senior pen pal program that’s connected them with young people from all over the area. It’s been a lovely way to add to their circle of friends – and has had some unexpected benefits. Here are five ways participating in pen pal programs like this could benefit you, too.

  1. 1. Letter writing reduces feelings of isolation. Isolation and loneliness can have devastating effects on your physical, mental and emotional health. Chronic loneliness is as dangerous as obesity, is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and can increase the chances of an early death by 26%. Staying in touch with people who care about you can go a long way toward fighting isolation.
  2. 2. Writing is good for your brain. Writing by hand increases neural activity as you choose words and organize thoughts. The sequential movements required to write activate the parts of the brain responsible for thinking, healing and language. It also benefits your working memory, because not only are you recalling information, but the very act of writing something down can help you remember it.
  3. 3. It can add some joy to life. Westminster Place residents have found that learning about what their pen pals are doing, what makes them happy, and what they’re interested in has brought them unexpected delight. And who doesn’t enjoy the nice surprise of getting a personal letter in the mail?
  4. 4. Letter writing helps you unplug and be intentional. Getting away from the constant input of what’s on the television or devices can be a healthy mental break. Taking the time to gather thoughts and write can relax your mind. You’re also giving yourself the chance to focus on what’s important, what you’re grateful for, and responding to your pen pal in specific, intentional ways.
  5. 5. Pen pal programs with seniors help both participants. Building intergenerational relationships benefits young people and their older friends. Children and older students are less likely to have behavioral or substance abuse problems. Older adults have improved brain and cognitive function, and are generally happier. And letter writing is one way to start building these meaningful friendships.
  6. Senior man writing a letter

Finding a Senior Pen Pal Program

• If you’re interested in connecting with a senior, there are quite a few programs you can easily find online. Just search “senior pen pal program.”

  • • You can also contact senior living communities in your area and ask if they have residents who would like to correspond. Residents in assisted living or nursing homes may be particularly isolated and in need of someone to communicate with.
  • • If you’re an older adult looking for an intergenerational pen pal, programs such as Hands On Suburban Chicago can connect you with elementary school children through the AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP program.

• The Westminster Place Adopt-a-Grandparent program pairs residents with people of all ages in the Evanston and Chicagoland area. You can learn more about Westminster Place – and ask about the program – on their website.