Write letters and give seniors a lift, says Lakshmi
With her own relationships with seniors in mind, Lakshmi Magon was saddened by all that Covid-19 was doing to people in care homes.
Sixty per cent no longer had visits from family or friends; people who once volunteered their time to read or sit and talk, had to stop.
Wanting to turning things around, she created Senior Pen Pals Bermuda. Anyone can participate. The idea is to offer people living in rest homes “something interesting to read and to foster a sense of connection and community”.
“We have had a lot of feedback from the care homes just kind of about getting involved. They’ve mentioned it is something really, really needed and they’re very happy to have this resource right now because seniors are definitely struggling with the isolation and the incredibly stretched resources caused by Covid,” Ms Magon said.
“If you imagine them being a vulnerable population – staff very often have to quarantine, seniors have to quarantine. So this is definitely something that will be quite useful from the care home’s perspective.”
Having lived in the UK where she was involved in a similar programme, Ms Magon started asking if there was anything similar here.
“It turns out we didn’t have one so I just decided to make one and here we are,” she said.
“I was inspired by the elders and intergenerational friendships in my own life. Throughout my life I've had great fun with friendships with elders within and out of my family. I've always enjoyed volunteering to get to know elders in my community and the wealth of knowledge and hilarity that has been passed on to me through them.”
With the scheme due to launch this week, she is hoping for community support. Although seniors can respond “if they wish” it’s not something that letter writers should expect.
“We’re working very closely with the care homes so we’ll see the letters, the care homes will see the letters – just to make sure there’s nothing inappropriate – and then the care homes will be able to distribute the letters among seniors that would be interested.
“For example if they know this senior’s into cooking or this senior’s into gardening and the letter mentions that, they can distribute it to that senior. But some care homes have said they’re quite eager to sit around and read in a circle or something like that. So it just really depends on what would serve the seniors best.”
It is possible that she would have offered the scheme even if Covid-19 was not in play.
“Something like over 30 per cent of seniors in care homes never have anyone visit them at all – and this is without Covid,” Ms Magon said. “With Covid this is obviously increased by a huge, huge amount and now it’s about 60 per cent of people. Even if they do have family members that really want to visit them they’re not able to because of restrictions and being a vulnerable population.
“Outside of this, a number of people will volunteer in care homes. They’ll go in and read to seniors or just hang out and talk – they’re also missing out on that social interaction. Isolation, lack of social interaction, is a big reason for increased depression and anxiety. For members of the public who are maybe feeling that depression and anxiety this could help them but for seniors I think it would be a huge, huge help.”
The scheme is being done “in collaboration” with Ageing and Disability Services Senior Pen Pals Bermuda but is “an independent project”, Ms Magon said.
“I’m doing it on my own, with friends and family helping me out of course.”
Submissions are accepted through www.bermudapenpals.com. Letters may either be typed directly onto the site or handwritten and scanned in; a picture of a letter may also be taken and uploaded.
“We’ll do all the rest and then get it to the senior,” said Ms Magon who works as a website coordinator and created the site herself.
“We do give some guidelines. Letter writing’s a bit of a lost art. But if they just introduce themselves, maybe talk about their hobbies, if anything interesting has happened to them – that would be a place to start. I think being on such a small, beautiful island as Bermuda, we all have quite a lot in common so it makes a lot of sense.”
For anyone interested in participating and curious about where their letter might end up, Ms Magon says: “It’s kind of a grab bag. Care homes have reached out to us with the list of seniors there that are interested in participating but because we don’t want to put any personal information that the senior’s not comfortable with being shared it will just be sent, kind of into the abyss. And then they may get a letter back. But if not we encourage them to keep sending letters. People will be reading them and appreciating them.”
For more information: www.bermudapenpals.com