Aged care homes call for children to send letters during lonely COVID-19 lockdown
With letter writing increasingly absent in the digital age, aged care centres want children to put down their screens and pick up a pen.
At aged care homes across Australia, there are no visitors and no-one is allowed out. Even the entertainers have been cancelled.
While the employees have tried to keep the residents connected with a myriad of different visual screen programs, it is not the same.
But one activity that has proven successful is a letter writing program in partnership with a local primary school.
“It gave the children a project while at the same time connecting them to an older generation and was proving mutually beneficial to both parties, said the lifestyle coordinator at Estia Health Bendigo, Jane Neely
"It gives us something to present to the residents and it gives them something to do in response," she said.
She said with many of the residents having lived through the Great Depression and a world at war, life under a pandemic could be one topic familiar to both generations.
"I'm hoping there might be some sort of empathy and connection there," Ms Neely said.
"People forget that [aged care residents] are really important, lovely people and they've got a story to tell.
"People are missing out by not having that connection with them."
Last year, 820 million fewer letters were delivered across Australia than the year before.
Author and founder of World Letter Writing Day, Richard Simpkin, wants more people to take up letter writing.
He spends his time visiting schools across the country encouraging students to write handwritten letters.
His motto is for students to take a break from social media and instead write a letter to somebody.
The advantages are many, including increased cognitive processes.
He also said letter writing or diary entries were more beneficial to mental health, reducing the increased levels of social media anxiety often developed after excessive amounts of time spent on screens.
"The act of writing something compared to typing something on a computer are two different things," Mr Simpkin said.
For as long as we have had paper and ink, we have had letter writing, according to a senior lecturer in history at the University of Melbourne, Una McIlvenna.
Whereas now it is more accessible, in the early modern period it was expensive and limited to those who could afford it, and to those who could read and write.
"Letter writing was largely the preserve of the elite," Dr McIlvenna said.
Crosshatching was one method used to cram as many words on a piece of paper as possible, involving writing both horizontally and vertically to save paper, but also making them hard to read.
The academic said letter writing's earliest beginnings were as a source of news transmission for many Europeans.
Well known 12th century French monk Bernard of Clairvaux was the centre of a "major news network" communicated via letters.
And powerful German banking brothers the Fuggers corresponded frequently, with their letters becoming known as the Fuggerzeitungen.
The word 'zeitung' translates as 'report' and is still used today to mean newspaper in German.
"I think it shows the link between letter writing and the development of news media across a long period," Dr McIlvenna said.
Whereas the earliest letters were written to be shared by being read aloud, the idea of letters as a personal, private exchange came about much later.
It was the advent of established national postal systems that changed our relationship with letters.
Over the years, letter writing developed and according to Dr McIlvenna became an "absolutely valuable, essential skill we all had to have".
Whereas Dr McIlvenna was taught the skill at school, strengthened by pen pals, she said many of her undergraduates remained "blissfully unaware" of the etiquette of letter writing which she felt compelled to teach them.
One of the formalities of letter writing, developed over centuries, was to demonstrate respect towards the recipient.
At Estia Health in Bendigo, Ms Neely reads out letters to groups of residents, many of whom have vision impairment, while others are handed out to individual residents.
The letters contain details of children's lives, their favourite hobbies, memorable moments, and even some jokes — often with accompanying drawings.
"Very cute letters, they were so beautiful, the kids," Ms Neely said.
The aim is to establish a regular pen pal relationship between a resident and student, and when the lockdown restrictions are finally lifted the hope is for a meeting between the two.
Ms Neely also encouraged secondary school students to take up the habit.
With the one common topic of life under a pandemic there would be plenty of material to share, she said.
Article courtesy of ABC News https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-11/aged-care-homes-call-for-children-to-send-letters-to-elderly/12141148