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An Easy Way to Love Your Elders: Write Them a Letter

A national program tackles the loneliness epidemic, one letter at a time.

A senior woman reads a letter.

If you were to write a letter of encouragement to an older adult you didn’t know, how would it begin?

“Dear Friend,” you might write, “I’m thinking about you.”

Letters don’t have to be much more complicated than that to make a meaningful difference in the life of an older adult who might be suffering under the weight of what social scientists call “the loneliness epidemic.”

Love for Our Elders  is an international non-profit through which more than 50,000 volunteers send letters to older adults in 70 countries, distributing letters through assisted living facilities, nursing homes and hospice programs.

At the helm of Love Our Elders is Jacob Cramer, whose grief over the loss of his grandfather inspired him to volunteer at a nursing home when he was 13 years old. Now a student at Yale University, Cramer created his organization based on his observation that too many residents at long-term care facilities live in loneliness—a problem that has been tragically exacerbated during the pandemic.

Older adults deserve to feel acknowledged and respected—and a program like Love for Our Elders highlights how easy it is to offer someone that dignity. A letter can be so simple. All it needs is a favorite quotation, a note of support or a word just to say “someone cares about you today.” 

For the minimal effort this takes, the older adult gets multiple benefits, from the nostalgic pleasures of hand-written mail to a balm against the health risks—including high blood pressure, diabetes and dementia— that are associated with loneliness.

Diane Patterson, a resident of a long-term care facility in Nashville, recently told Next Avenue how much of an impact the letters she receives have made:  “I love it because when they send me those cards, it makes my day. Sometimes I get really emotional. I don’t know what I would do without those cards.”

Are you inspired to volunteer through Love for Our Elders or another organization? Have you ever benefited from writing or receiving a hand-written note?

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