Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bingo--More Than Meets the Eye

Photo by Kimberly Malvar
Attending Monday bingo in the skilled nursing center for fifteen months has shown me that this supposedly simple game requires the players to manage multiple skills.
Players must have adequate vision, hearing and the fine or gross motor skills to play. 
During a round, someone asks, "Did the caller say '50' or '60'?" They also need the cognition to retain the number in their mind while scanning each number on three cards.

For reasons having to do with vision or with cognition, sometimes a 3 will look like an 8, a 7 like a 1. They also have to perceive the winning patterns.

Almost each resident in skilled nursing has trouble with at least one of these tasks, but they find ways to accommodate age-related changes.

Laura sits at the front table so that she can see each ball as it comes out of the mixer. She relies on her vision since her hearing is impaired. Sam uses large-print cards. Bill places his cards on a non-stick mat and wears gloves that keep his fingers from forming a fist. These aids help him push the windows closed without the assistance of a staff member or volunteer.

A handful of residents have every skill set required to play bingo. They just have lower-body challenges to manage, so once they maneuver their wheelchair into place, they are ready to play without impediment.

Betty receives gentle reminders from a volunteer about when she can call bingo. Even though she struggles to remember that five numbers in a row is the desired pattern, she shows great accuracy each week over the course of 11 games in finding the called numbers on her cards. Even though she has memory problems, she still possesses enough skill with her hearing to help others at her table.

Residents at tables throughout the dining room take turns helping each other in this way: one might have the better hearing, her neighbor the better vision. This co-operation reinforces the importance of social skills required for bingo. They tease each other for winning too often or not at all.

Gladys wins the current round, so she receives a dollar in winnings. The caller shouts out, “If there are no others, this round is closed. Clear your cards.” An adult son walks into the dining room and pulls a chair next to his father. Another resident comes in from an appointment in the beauty parlor and tries her luck for the last two games.

The weather outside worsens. Everyone looks up to see the rain splashing heavily against the windows before turning to hail. The noise of the storm mixes with the sound of the bingo balls tumbling in the cage. One by one, the numbered balls escape down the shoot and line up to be called in the next game.


Is It Dementia or Only Delirium?
Age-related Changes to How We Write
Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living
Don't Be a Boy Scout: Preserving the Independence of Older Adults


  1. Ah Nursing Home Bingo....the highlight of the week for many residents. This is a great area to volunteer or donate small items to be used as prizes. :)
    Nancy Williams

  2. Yes, residents love bingo. Many of the prizes where I volunteer are more geared to women. But that makes sense since there are about 5 women to every 1 man. I should ask the men or their adult children about prizes that would appeal to them.