Lockdown letters lift spirits

Written by Challenge:ELBA team’s Ashley Rice

For many of us, the memory of receiving a handwritten letter will fill us with happiness. For Mary, who had been alone for months, receiving a letter meant so much more. Her first letter arrived in July last year. It began with “Dear neighbour” and was beautifully handwritten and illustrated. It contained well wishes and some personal anecdotes from the past few months. After reading her letter, Mary said “I feel less lonely now. It was so wonderful to read.”

Mary is a member of the Forget Me Not Project, a memory café for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been sending regular care packages to the members, with activities and fun items to keep their minds active and their spirits up. The Forget Me Not Project asked if ELBA volunteers would like to write letters to include with the care packages and the response was incredible. Since then, volunteers have written over 1200 letters that have been sent out to the group.

Most of the members of the Forget Me Not Project are over 70, live alone and are quite isolated. Lockdown meant they were not able to meet as a group which has left them without an important lifeline to connect and socialise with other people. People with Alzheimer’s or dementia often struggle with technology and even a phone call can be distressing and confusing. Letters are a great way to engage with these people and help them feel connected to the outside world.

Volunteers who are more used to emails and Zoom calls have also loved writing the letters. Many people commented that they hadn’t hand written a letter since they were in school. As well as writing the letter, volunteers also included drawings and pictures to bring their words to life. They documented their lockdown experiences and the different activities they had done to keep themselves busy. Some volunteers even got their children involved, adding their own drawings and messages. One recipient said:

“I absolutely loved the drawing and pictures, particularly the children’s works. It did cheer me up a lot.”

Letter writing has benefits for the volunteers who can spend some time away from their screen and embrace some creativity. Recent studies have shown that the process of writing words on paper can aid brain cognition and function. It can also improve mental health by normalising people’s feelings and allowing them to process them in different ways. Most importantly, someone taking some time out of their day to think about someone else and write a letter has been a real boost to the morale of the members of the Forget Me Not Project. Another recipient said:

“I displayed all the cards and letters hanging in my drawing room. It looks brilliant!”

While lockdown continues, there is still a need to connect with members of the Forget Me Not Project. This year, ELBA is asking volunteers to create simple guessing games that can be sent to the group. Games and puzzles are a great way to keep minds active and give a sense of achievement for completing them. On 3rd March 2021, ELBA is holding an online session for volunteers to create their guessing games. To find out more or sign up, visit: elbacreateapuzzle.eventbrite.co.uk

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