An old-school method of keeping in touch has been adopted by high school students and aged care residents in Rockingham in a bid to maintain connections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tranby College students have been part of the MercyCare Rockingham Residential Aged Care Home community for the past six years, so when they could no longer visit due to increased health precautions, they turned to letter writing instead.
Since 2014, groups of students visited the home on a weekly basis spending time with residents and taking part in multi-generation activities.
However, these visits came to a stop during Term One this year when the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Australia.
Government restrictions limiting visitors to aged care homes were still in place when students returned to their Baldivis school for Term Two, so residents and students became pen pals to stay connected.
A total of 27 residents put their hand up to be partnered with a student as pen pals.
With students from all year groups having spent time at the care home, the offer was put out to the whole school and soon each of the residents were connected with a different student.
Occupational Therapist Letisha Stanley, who is based at MercyCare Residential Rockingham Aged Care Home said residents have enjoyed the experience of writing and receiving letters.
“It’s a great way for the residents to interact with more people, keep up that relationship with the Tranby College students and it’s also a good form of mental stimulation,” she said.
MercyCare staff provide support for those requiring it to help them keep up their letter writing.
“Some of our residents live with dementia or simply need a little one on one assistance, while working on their letters they often reminisce as old memories are brought up from their time at school, it’s a lovely process to be involved in,” Ms Stanley said.
She said visits by the students often provided a “bit of a spark” for residents, so they were looking forward to hopefully having the students visit in-person again in the future.
During their visits in the past, Tranby College students spent time at the care home playing board games with the residents, playing bingo, doing puzzles and even working with them to capture some of their life stories.
Letter writing is just one of the ways MercyCare is ensuring aged care home residents are able to maintain meaningful connections.
MercyCare Executive Director Aged Care Services Joanne Penman said alongside providing excellent care, residents need connections to their family, loved ones and the wider community.
“We understand a person’s well-being and mental health is as important as their physical health,” she said.
“That’s why we created the ‘Linking Together’ program which uses a whole raft of communication methods to connect residents in our aged care homes with their family and friends.”
The program makes the most of technology, with additional devices such as tablets and smartphones sourced for residents to use for video calls, phone calls and emails.
Dedicated staff also provide residents with the support they need to use the devices.