B is for Bingo
by Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

B-5.  N-37. G-51.  Most activity professionals could call bingo in their sleep.  Many activity professionals don’t like bingo.   Recently, on social media, there has been much debate on the value of bingo.  Many naysayers have said it’s boring, bad for you, destroys brain cells, has no therapeutic value and contributes to agitation. Some suggest the elders have been brain washed into thinking that they should play bingo or they only go to bingo because there is nothing else to do.   I disagree.  As therapeutic activity professionals or recreation therapists, we use various activities and approaches to bring about positive change or responses in our elders.  Through assessment, adaptation and engagement, the activities we offer increase socialization, cognitive function and overall wellbeing.  When we invite a resident to bingo, it is with therapeutic intent as there are a number of benefits derived from playing bingo as well as other concentration games.  To involve an elder who does not have the interests or skills to play bingo or participate fully in any of the activities we offer, would be bad practice and inappropriate.

Before you join the campaign to Ban Bingo, consider the following:
            -To call bingo “boring” is the fault of the group leader. I agree calling straight bingo can be tedious.  However, as a group leader, my role is to make things fun when needed.  We have all said “I wish” after I-16 or “after” when calling B-4.   As silly as it seems, I would occasionally call Bingo with an English accent (both Cockney and Aristocrat) as well as Australian.  If things are dragging, then we step up and give it some life.  Yes, there are the serious bingo players that shout out “just call the numbers” but for the most part, they enjoy themselves too. 
            -To say bingo has no social features is the fault of the group leader as well.  While quiet is preferred during calling of the numbers, there is plenty of chatting before, between and after games.     
            -To say there are no therapeutic benefits to bingo is inaccurate.  One of the more prominent benefits is improved cognition where by it requires focus, concentration and memory recall to play.  The adage – if you don’t use it, you lose it – fits in here.  Listening to numbers called, concentrating on remembering them while looking at your card and then identifying the correct number is a cognitive exercise.    Remembering what letters and numbers look like and matching the right number to the right place is an exercise in symbol recognition, memory and recall.  Remaining focused and attentive for the length of the game is an exercise in strengthening one’s attention span.  Physically sitting upright in a chair is a challenge for many elders and many are motivated to remain out of bed and seated at the table while playing bingo.   Picking up the chips or markers is an exercise in fine motor skills.   Moving that chip from the side onto the right spot is an exercise of eye-hand coordination.  Anyone who has watched an elder with severe impairments focus on picking up that chip and moving it to the right spot has seen the look of accomplishment in their eyes.  There is opportunity for decision making when selecting the bingo card, as picking out the “right” card is part of the bingo process for some players.  There is a sense of familiarity to those who have played bingo as a lifelong pastime.  The sound of the rolling balls, hearing the familiar letters and numbers being called can be a comforting ritual that connects them to their personhood.  There is connection and feelings of belonging with other bingo players who play week after week and sit in their “favorite spot” with their friends.  There is a feeling of anticipation when they know it is “bingo day”.  Most experienced activity professionals have had negative responses when changing or cancelling bingo day.  We could have Julio Iglesias scheduled to entertain that day, but don’t change bingo.
Research on the therapeutic value of bingo is sparse but available.  Probably the most reliable and valid research was done by Julie Winstone from the Centre for Visual Cognition at Southampton University’s Psychology Department in the UK.  Her study revealed that the game of bingo can improve the speed and accuracy of short-term memory and can actually assist in reversing some aging effects.  The study proved that those who play bingo regularly showed higher concentration abilities and a higher level of short term memory than those who completed crosswords, played chess or bridge.
            -It has been said the arriving baby boomers won’t play bingo.  As a baby boomer, I tend to agree however surveys completed by Game Magazine show a significant increase of individuals over the age of 50 playing on line bingo.  The social and physical benefits of this type of participation are far less however the reasons given by these older adults is they felt it exercised their mind.

Finally, bingo is fun for people who like bingo.  It brings joy, laughter and a chosen diversion in their day.  Playing bingo may not be something the activity professional personally likes to do but it remains something our elders enjoy.  We have to remind ourselves – it is not what we want or like to do – it is what our elders want.  It is their choice and we create opportunities so they can fulfill their choices in a successful and meaningful way.

I-42, O-75, B-10