A new pen pal program that connects elderly and socially-isolated pharmacy patients with primary school students has been established by an intern pharmacist and graduate from The University of Western Australia.
Tahlia Parisella, 23, from Crawley who completed a Master of Pharmacy at UWA last year, was inspired to start the program after she saw a need to do more to help older patients she would regularly see when delivering prescription medication.
“Some of these people have the most incredible stories to share and are prone to being a bit lonely and vulnerable living alone and this program gives them something to look forward to."Tahlia Parisella
“The patients would always want me to come inside and have a tea or coffee and I might be the only person they see for a couple days or even a week in some cases,” Ms Parisella said.
“Social isolation has become so much more prominent because of COVID-19 and pharmacists being so accessible to the elderly it was a good option for us to reach out to them and see if we could help.”
During the past two months, 25 elderly patients from Gerald Burns Pharmacy were paired with Year 6 students from Bicton Primary School and exchanged letters every two to four weeks.
“Some of these people have the most incredible stories to share and are prone to being a bit lonely and vulnerable living alone and this program gives them something to look forward to,” Ms Parisella said.
"Participating in the program gives me a new friend, and despite them being much younger than I am, I can’t wait to read what my pen pal has been doing every time I receive their letters."Valerie Keogh
Pharmacy patient Valerie Keogh, who joined the pen pal program, said the initiative was worthwhile for both school children and elderly participants.
“Participating in the program gives me a new friend, and despite them being much younger than I am, I can’t wait to read what my pen pal has been doing every time I receive their letters,” Ms Keogh said.
“I am constantly learning about this new generation and I am hopeful they are going to do a fabulous job.”
According to Ms Parisella, intergenerational topics are frequently discussed among participants.
“The children are talking about TikTok and the older patients are writing about living through the war and things like that, it is really great for them to share life experiences,” she said.
Year 6 student Samantha from Bicton Primary School said despite the significant age gap, she had a lot in common with her pen pal and found it interesting to hear about their day-to-day life in isolation.
“I think the program is really important because elderly people are lonely at home and their families can’t see them,” Samantha said.
Tahlia said patients would always come in looking forward to their letters and were excited about the prospect of meeting up with the children eventually.