'It is amazing to watch them go down memory lane': How writing festive cards to the elderly will make a difference this Christmas
The Post's Cards for Kindness campaign is giving people the chance to reach out to those in care homes who may be feeling isolated during the coronavirus pandemic, writing messages to encourage the elderly to reminisce on their past.
The Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System initiative has relaunched for its third year in time for Christmas - after what has been a tough year for many care home residents, with visiting restrictions during the pandemic.
An option of four designed cards can be printed online by anyone in Lancashire, and can be filled with heartwarming messages to brighten the day of isolated care home residents.
With more than 100 care homes taking part across the borough, participants then choose a participating home and send it off with a stamp in the hope of making the national lockdown a little more bearable.
But what is written in those cards makes all the difference - particularly for those living with dementia, where they can be used as a conversation starter to reminisce on the past.
Louise Newton, manager of Brookside care home, said writing simple things like daily routines or what people ate for breakfast 'does wonders' for their mental health.
She said: "We keep an album of all our cards so the residents can look at them whenever they want. It isn't just about the card, sometimes people sent pictures and talk about memories of the past which encourage them to communicate and engage in conversations.
"It is amazing to sit and listen to the residents. Once they start talking about something, two hours has soon passed before you know it and you have digressed their memories of things gone by.
"People can write anything at all in their cards. It can be something as simple as telling them what they did that day or what food they cooked in the kitchen. All of it evokes a conversation about their past and they go down memory lane.
"One resident got a card from someone in the community who told her that they had made a fruit cake that day. Before I knew it, she started telling me about when her and her friends used to pick berries as children and meet her friends on a farm.
"It is wonderful listening to the conversations they have just on the basis of someone putting a card through the post. I don't think the people who do it realise what a difference it makes to their lives."
As well as partaking in Lancashire county council's 'cards for kindness' scheme, Brookside have been involved with Age UK's postcards of kindness initiative for the past few years.
The Post is now simply asking our readers to send an extra card to any of the care homes taking part in the scheme, and they will pass on your messages of goodwill to residents.
The Cards for Kindness project was first set up by Lancashire County Council in summer 2018 as a response to increasing feelings of loneliness in care homes, and Christmas is being seen as the ideal time of year for more people to reach out.
For 90-year-old Grove House resident Nancy Oxley, the cards give her the chance to feel valued, having not seen her niece Grace for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Becoming tearful when holding a card that was handmade by a lady in the local community, she said: "They were hand made and it has really touched me. The card wishes me a day full of sun, smiles and happy thoughts.
"It is absolutely smashing."
Kirsty Durham, 32, is the covering manager of Grove House care home, Highfield Road, Chorley. She said: "Our residents are feeling incredibly lonely and missing their families. The staff are really pushing themselves to make sure all our residents have the happiest Christmas they can under the circumstances because it is just heartbreaking.
"The cards are amazing at making sure it brightens their day and letting them know they aren't forgotten about. We use them as conversation starters to talk to them and ask questions about their Christmas in the past, the way they used to display their cards.
"It is just another talking point which gives them the opportunity to reminisce on happier times."
And residents with dementia can feel the benefit of the new 'cards for kindness' scheme in the run up to the festive period, with many people seeing their health deteriorate during the pandemic.
The Alzheimer's society are encouraging people to send an extra Christmas card this year and help those living with the condition by writing their messages about Christmas traditions and memories.
Tara Edwards, Area Manager for Lancashire and Cumbria for Alzheimer’s Society said: “Alzheimer’s Society in Lancashire welcomes the Cards For Kindness initiative that aims to be a way to reach out to people with dementia in care homes who may be feeling isolated at this time.
"Christmas can be a lonely time for some people who are affected by dementia anyway but even more so right now in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
"For most of this year care home residents, 70 per cent of whom have dementia, have sadly been separated from their families. To receive a card and message from someone in their community will be an uplifting surprise for someone with dementia and help them feel they are not alone.
"Writing messages around Christmas traditions such as carol singing, wrapping presents, hanging up stockings and cooking a turkey with all the trimmings could help people reminisce about their own past Christmases and customs that they have enjoyed."
More information about how people can get support can visit alzheimers.org.uk.
• You can find participating care homes online here.
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