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Pen Pals for Seniors: How To Connect in a Meaningful Way

Are you interested in making a new friend? Would you enjoy a connection with older adults?

There are local and national organizations that specialize in matching letter writers to senior citizens who want and need to connect with others. At the height of the covid-19 pandemic, many elderly members of our community were isolated. Without regular in-person contact, they were left to suffer the effects of loneliness.

Senior woman happily getting her penpal letter out of the mailbox during covid, elderly pen pal

Social isolation has negatively affected many seniors and is responsible for about 25% of adults over the age of 65 facing a mental health crisis: anxiety, depression, or loneliness.

Penpal organizations began to expand or come into existence in order to combat the realities of isolation. For the small cost of a postage stamp, many seniors and their pen pal friends connected and formed connections of great value.

It might seem a bit old-fashioned to take out a piece of paper and craft a hand-written letter, but in reality, it’s a wonderful way to show respect and honor someone from an older generation.

Senior woman with white braid writing a letter to her penpal, elderly pen pal

Letter writing can be an act of love.


When you take the time to write a personal letter to someone, you share something of yourself with them. The bond that forms between the writer and the reader is like a blanket in the cold, it warms their heart and insulates them from the icy grasp of loneliness.

By creating a letter-writing relationship with a senior, you are allowing them to define how they want to be remembered. They get to choose what they want to say and what they want you to remember about their life.

Reaching out through letters means that you took the time to step away from the rest of the world for a moment. It means that you care.

Letter writing can benefit both of you.


Some seniors may be able to write back to their pen pals, while others may not be able to reciprocate. If they can’t, then they will still benefit from receiving your letters. Either way, seniors who receive personal letters tend to have better cognitive abilities and they also tend to be happier. They have someone and something else to focus on. It gives them something to talk about when they get the opportunity.

Writing letters forces our brains to organize our thoughts, activate our memories, and communication skills. It also benefits us by allowing our minds to slow down a little and selectively express thoughts that we might be overlooking in our hectic daily lives.

Letter writing builds bridges.


In addition to making friends, letter writing between younger people and seniors creates intergenerational connections. These connections produce a greater level of appreciation and understanding as both parties explore things about the other generation.

By corresponding through letters, everyone can spend a little time thinking about what they are going to write next. What would you like to ask? How are you going to answer? This type of exchange builds relationship bridges between generations which creates a sense of tender respect.

Caregiver reading letter with elderly mother from pen pals for seniors 2022

How to Get Started Writing to Your Pen Pal

You might think the first letter is the hardest, but it’s really simple. The first letter you write is your introduction. Be sure to include a few basic things about yourself. You can even add a photo of yourself if you like. Seniors love to share pictures.

  1. Name
  2. Age
  3. Gender
  4. Where you live
  5. Something about your family
  6. Work or hobbies

Elderly man holding a pencil poised to write a letter to his penpal , elderly pen pal

Getting the most out of your penpal experience


Having a golden aged penpal is a special opportunity. Most seniors welcome the opportunity to answer questions and share their experiences and wisdom. It makes them feel loved. However, they might not realize what a treasure their stories really are, but with a little encouragement, you’ll be able to help them recognize their worth. It also turns a long, lonely day into something fun.

Here are a few ideas for corresponding with someone from an older generation:

  • Keep in mind that you are dealing with an elderly person, so don’t wait too long between letters.
  • Always start by thanking them for their previous correspondence.
  • Be patient, they don’t move as fast as they used to, but if they haven’t answered a second letter or email, then it might be time to check on them.
  • If they are hospitalized or moved to another facility, then your letters become even more important.

Here are a few questions to help make your letters more meaningful. These can be adjusted to fit your penpal and their personality. If you are writing to an older relative, then some of the answers to these questions will be very special to you:

  1. Start by asking them an ice-breaker question about some famous person from the past with whom they will be familiar. It could be a celebrity, athlete, politician, or scientist, etc.
  2. Seniors with mild dementia or early-stage Alzheimer’s can recall stories from their childhoods. Ask them about their earliest memories with grandparents or cousins.
  3. Ask them about their favorite family traditions.
  4. Avoid “Yes/No” questions. Rephrase them so that they can respond with a story. For example, instead of asking if they like snow, ask them to tell you about their favorite memory involving snow.
  5. If a specific topic seems to make them uncomfortable or if they have been avoiding answering the question, move forward. Simply change the subject.
  6. Your conversations should be meaningful for both of you, so be a little choosy about which questions you ask.
  7. If you are corresponding with a veteran, be sensitive to what they might have been through. There will be many things they will enjoy talking about, but there also might be other painful topics that they will want to avoid. Be respectful of their choice of topics.

elderly man outside during the summer, elderly pen pal

Remember, your penpal is a living resource and a wonderful opportunity to connect with someone unique and special. This is a time when you can be yourself with your new friend and share what is important to you too. If you are running late writing back, drop a postcard in the mail so they know you haven’t forgotten about them. They will love to read even a short note or message.

If you would like to participate in a snail mail relationship, then please check with your local assisted living facility, a nursing home, a veteran’s home, or Project Penpal to be matched with a senior who would love to be your penpal. You can find a pen pal program online and join others who have found support in connecting with seniors.

Search your heart and create ways to connect with a special senior. Happy Writing!


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