To help reduce social isolation among older patients, WA intern pharmacist Tahlia Parisella set up a pen pal program between patients at her Bicton pharmacy and a local primary school
Inspired by the television program Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, Ms Parisella said she saw a need to do more to assist older patients she would regularly see when delivering medicines, in particular Webster packs.
“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, and I wanted to do something to help,” she said.
“Needing to do a project for my internship, we initially had an idea to do the pen pal letters along with semi-regular meetups, but then COVID-19 happened, so we have just done the letters and hopefully we can include the meetups later on, when restrictions are lifted.
“Social isolation has become so much more prominent because of COVID-19, and pharmacists being so accessible to older patients it was a good option for us to reach out to them, and see if we could help.
“I first pitched the idea to my delivery patients and they were interested, and after that we briefed the staff about what our idea was and how it would work, and it grew from there.”
Over the last two months, 25 older patients from Gerald Burns Pharmacy have participated in the project along with 25 children from Bicton Primary School between years 4-6, sending letters to each other on average every two to four weeks.
Ms Parisella said the patients always come in looking forward to their letters and are excited to hopefully meet up with the children eventually.
“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,” she said.
“There are a lot of intergenerational topics they write about to each other with the school children talking about TikTok and the older patients writing about living through the war and things like that, it is really great for them to share life experiences.”
PSA Western Australia Branch President Dr Fei Sim said this public health program is a very innovative way to assist older patients to reduce social isolation during COVID-19 that could lead to more serious mental health problems.
“This is such a great initiative and really showcases how pharmacies and community pharmacists are integral to local communities,” she said.
“It provides an alternative lens to holistic healthcare provided by pharmacists in the community which extends beyond conventional consultations, very innovative and impactful.
“While a lot of the focus has been on COVID-19 in recent times, it is important we don’t neglect other health conditions including those relating to mental health.
“I commend Tahlia and her colleagues for setting up this program that is not only heartwarming but of great benefit to both the patients and school children and is something that could easily be implemented in other pharmacies across Western Australia.”
“We regularly see many of our intern pharmacists in Western Australia implement projects that have led to positive patient outcomes particularly during COVID-19.”