Grandpal Penpals: a qualitative study of the effectiveness of a social program on senior quality of life in residential care facilities
Objective: Grandpal Penpals is a unique community program that connects seniors living in residential care with elementary school students through pen pal letter writing and visits. A common belief is that seniors have a lower quality of life in residential care facilities. We explored how this program qualitatively affected the senior participants’ quality of life.
Methods: Within participants in the Grandpal Penpals program, seniors who were sufficiently cognitively intact, as decided by the facility recreational staff, were chosen to participate in our study. In-person interviews were conducted with participants at the beginning and at the end of the program to determine major themes.
Results: Major themes were identified in the domains of motivation, activities, relationships and autonomy: 1) Grandpal Penpals strengthened the participants' pre-existing motivations, 2) seniors perceived social programs like Grandpal Penpals to be enjoyable and beneficial, 3) participants found it difficult to make meaningful friendships within the care facilities, 4) participants valued family above other relationships, and 5) Grandpal Penpals had no impact on the participants' self-perceived level of autonomy.
Conclusion: While participants greatly enjoyed taking part in Grandpal Penpals, the shallow degree of involvement and limited continuity was insufficient to create lasting benefits for most participants. Our research suggests that other highly engaging, long-term social programs with increased senior-senior or senior-family interaction may be of even greater benefit.