Mom and me in the early 90s.
When I visit my mom in Washington, I take her to Bingo on Sundays. She lives in an assisted living home and all her needs are met, but she won’t participate in the numerous activities offered unless I’m there with her. Unfortunately, I never can stay long or visit often enough to my liking–or hers. But, while I’m there, we have fun trying out whatever is on the schedule from Bingo to Laughter Yoga. We have fun with the group activities and also play cards for hours—especially our favorite game, called Demon.
I noticed while playing Bingo that my mom had to stay focused and alert to keep up with the caller (so did I!). When we went from two Bingo cards apiece to three, I noticed her working even harder. The caller was pretty quick and it wasn’t an easy task. I was thinking that Bingo must have some health and brain benefits for the elderly because I witnessed it first hand. I Googled it and yes, I found many articles praising the benefits of Bingo for the elderly—and all adults 40 and older.
In an article called “Bingo Brings More than Fun to the Table for Seniors” I discovered that researchers have verified the health benefits:
As it turns out Bingo is more than just a fun activity. Researchers have found that playing bingo has multiple health benefits for the elderly. It takes concentration – which improves listening and short-term memory skills and it promotes socialization – which is essential for seniors to maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle. So if your elderly loved one likes to play bingo, it can be an excellent way to promote mental, emotional, and physical health. This may be a good way to get your loved one motivated and interested in other activities.
Bingo is the American version of a game that originated as an Italian Lottery called “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia” that was all the rage dating back as far as the mid-1500s. When the game reached North America in 1929 it was known as “beano” but later renamed bingo after a caller yelled out “BINGO” instead of beano. Bingo is a big mainstay at local senior and community centers all across the US. Many fire companies hold weekly bingo to raise much-needed funds.
Cognitive Benefits of Bingo
With the concentration and listening skills it takes to play bingo, one’s cognitive abilities are sharpened. Who couldn’t benefit from that? Since the game requires alertness to hear the numbers and remember that information to transfer it to the cards they are playing, it improves memory. Researchers at the University of Southampton found that bingo players had better results in tests of memory, speed, and cognitive function than those who do not play the game, regardless of their age. Significant improvement in hand-eye coordination occurs with many seniors due to the speed required and the repetitive nature of the game. Even seniors with dementia issues have shown improvement. Using larger cards with larger and bolder type and a high contrast in color improve thinking skills and memory among patients with dementia issues including Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease.
In The Guardian’s article called “Bingo calculations help elderly people keep their brains alert” they make similar claims:
Bingo makes you think faster than non-players and keeps you more alert into old age, a researcher told a British Psychological Society conference.
Julie Winstone, of Southampton University, said players were faster and more accurate than non-bingo players on tests measuring mental speed, the ability to scan for information, and memory.
Her research found older players even outperformed younger counterparts, suggesting keeping the brain active keeps it sharper for longer.
The finding came as no surprise to the National Bingo Association, which said the game was played by three million people with an average age of 49.
“The blue rinse brigade dominated it 15 years ago. But then it was taken up by celebrities Denise Van Outen, Elle Macpherson, Robbie Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Bianca and Jade Jagger,” said Gloria Pattinson, an association spokeswoman.
In a blog called “The Social Benefits of Bingo”
they promote the social benefits of Bingo:
One of the great things about games is their social benefits. It is not just about winning and losing, but the friendships and relationships you can gain from playing. Many would say that winning and losing is entirely incidental – the reason one plays something is for the friendships. Depending on how competitive a person is, will affect how they see this.
Some people don’t have an easy time meeting new people and talking to them. This is where a game comes in useful. Playing the game creates conversation. It is an ice-breaker and gives you the chance to get to know someone. This is why people say to pursue a hobby if you are looking to meet new people.
Bingo is no different from any other game. If you like to play the game, it stands to reason that you will also like people who play it. You already share a common interest and this can be the basis and foundation for a friendship. Of course, bingo can only do some of the work; once you get there it’s all down to you.
My prior experience with Bingo and the elderly was with my daughter. We joined a mother-daughter volunteer organization called National Charity League and Bingo was on our schedule. At a nursing home, our girls would wheel the residents out of their rooms to the dining room where the moms had set up Bingo cards and the cage with the balls. The girls took turns being the caller and sitting with residents, helping them place poker chips over the numbers on their cards. It was a neat experience and I saw firsthand how much the nursing home residents looked forward to their Bingo nights. Bingo was a bright light during an otherwise dull and empty week.
Okay, so I read my mom some bits and pieces of these articles. She likes Bingo, understands the benefits to her health—but will she go on her own? I asked the attendants to remind her when it’s Sunday at 1 p.m. so she can make it down the hall to the game room and play. But will she? So far, I’ve been taking her each time I visit for more than five years—yet she’s never made it on her own. I had the same conversation with the woman who leads Laughter Yoga and her daughter who is about my age, too. (Laughter Yoga is another great activity for the elderly and young alike.) Both the mom and daughter are enthusiastic about stopping by Mom’s room to ask her to join them. I’m not holding my breath that Mom will say yes to them. Then, there’s my brother and his family who could take her, too. But they enjoy taking her out, not staying in. How good is a simple game like Bingo that promotes socialization, fights dementia by improving focus and memory? I hope Mom makes it there!
Selfie of Mom and me playing BINGO.
Have you had any experience with Bingo? Do you find it fun and beneficial for the elderly?