“Bingo!” Just the name makes people cringe and ask, is this all social life has to offer for residents in long-term care—how terrible! Well, I want to help you look at Bingo in a new way.
I have been working at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for 22 years, and Bingo has always been one of the most popular activities on my activities calendar. Bingo is popular not because it is fun, and certainly not because there is nothing else to do—we schedule more than 75 activities weekly— but because it is safe on many levels. Let me explain what I mean.
Bingo is known as an aggregate activity in the therapeutic recreation world. Action is directed toward an object while the player is in the company of others who are also directing activity towards their own objects. No interaction is required between participants. They are in physical proximity of one another, yet no one is required to engage in conversation, be funny, share stories or feel put on the spot in any way. Players are able to gradually become acquainted with one another without expectations.
Picture this scenario: You are an 89-year-old woman who has been living alone in your house or apartment for the past ten years. You used to work, and go to temple, but your primary social activity revolved around your family. You’re placed in a nursing home setting and expected to join in group activities with others you don’t know. This can be a frightening and intimidating experience.
Through Bingo, residents have the opportunity to join in a group setting, are not isolated in their rooms, can observe others, and slowly begin to form relationships with individuals sitting nearby, who may very well become new friends. Interaction is not necessary but it slowly evolves, as players borrow chips from one another, help each other find numbers, or offer congratulations when someone wins. It is a great process to watch unfold.
Last week I played a Bingo game, and a 100-year-old woman with significant hearing and visual deficits won three times. She claimed she hadn’t won in months, and left the game beaming with pride and $4.00 in her purse. She talked about her win all week, and her Bingo companions cheered her on. It was actually one of the best moments of my week.
Bingo can also be very therapeutic for residents struggling with dementia and physical limitations, as well as those who can’t experience a sense of success with other kinds of activities. Bingo can actually be challenging for some of our residents. A player needs to be able to recognize numbers, and plan and initiate picking up the chip and placing it on the card, while following game patterns. But in a safe supportive setting, they can use skills that are still intact and feel a sense of accomplishment and belonging.
Bingo may not be for everyone, but next time you cringe at the thought, come join me for a Sunday afternoon game, and witness the smiles on the faces in the room, as those engaged feel success after having experienced so much loss. You too may just change your mind about the benefits of a good game of Bingo!