“Mind if I make the announcements now?”
At some point about halfway through my hour of lunchtime background music, this “life enrichment” director always asks me to stop for a few minutes. Microphone in hand, she reads her list of activities scheduled for the rest of the day:
“At 12:30, we’ll be showing a movie about Johnny Cash called Walk the Line.”
“Then at 3pm, there’s exercise.”
Not a peep.
“At 7 o’clock tonight, bingo.”
OOOOH!!! Excitement ripples across the large dining room.
What makes bingo so irresistible to senior citizens?
My grandmother adored bridge, and played every chance she got. She kept a close eye on the activities room in the nursing home where she spent her last few years, ever alert to the possibility of a bridge game. But bingo—as simple a game as bridge is a complicated one—also drew her in.
I remember the bingo fundraising nights at the Catholic church my family belonged to when I was growing up. I hear church bingo nights are still popular, despite claims by some that they take unfair advantage of people with a weakness for gambling.
Very little is allowed to stand in the way of bingo at a senior facility. I once played the piano in the assisted living home where my mother was for a brief time. Because of a staff miscommunication, bingo was scheduled to start halfway through my informal concert. When it was time for the game there was a mass exodus, leaving me with an audience of three. (At least my mother was one of them.)
At another place where I have a twice-monthly volunteer gig, the residents start lining up outside the bingo room at 12:45 for the 2pm start. Winners earn “bingo bucks” they can spend once a month, on an assigned day, in the gift shop. A couple of weeks ago, I happened to walk by on bingo shopping day. Seven women in wheelchairs waited to get in. The one at the front had turned her chair to make it impossible for anyone to cut ahead of her. Her steely expression alone would have kept me from considering the move.
These seniors take their bingo seriously.
And then there’s the retirement community I visit where sorority “girls” call the numbers at bingo. Men reluctant to participate in other activities hustle to the bingo game when these young college students arrive.
There’s even a music-themed version of bingo. The cards have titles of old songs instead of numbers printed in the squares. Players try to match song snippets they hear (a CD comes packaged with the game) to titles on their cards.
Bingo variations for people with dementia include identifying colors and shapes, foods, animals, body parts.
So, why bingo? There are the obvious reasons, social and cognitive. But when I ask participants, I get this answer: “It’s just fun.” Reason enough.
Copyright © 2017 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.