Bingo Goes Beyond Fun, Benefiting Mind, Body, and Spirit

Did you know that bingo has a birthday … month? It’s December, in case you’re wondering. Hard-core fans can celebrate the 31 Days of Bingo if they want, though the average person is more likely to celebrate National Bingo Day, like we do at Park Senior Villas.

A Brief History

In 1929, U. S. toymaker and entrepreneur Edwin Lowe manufactured the first bingo game, but a form of the game dates back to the 16th century. Lowe’s eponymous company, which Milton Bradley bought in 1973 for $26 million, also produced the dice game Yahtzee.

The Game’s Enduring Popularity

Now approaching its centennial birthday, bingo has proved to be enormously popular as both a fundraising event and a social pastime. While the game is often associated with older adults, people of all ages enjoy playing bingo.

What makes it so popular? Several facets of the game contribute to its long-term success:

  • It’s competitive. Typically, only one person can win a single game of bingo, even if a roomful of people are playing — and everyone loves to win. It’s a game of chance, to be sure, but players must pay attention and be active participants.
  • It’s accessible. No special skills are required to play, other than being able to read numbers (and the game can be modified to eliminate even that requirement). People with very limited mobility can play, as can those with low vision (also with some modifications to the game), and those experiencing the early stages of dementia.
  • It’s social. While digital versions of bingo are available, it’s still usually played in person, in group gatherings. Players talk, laugh, and enjoy the companionship of their fellow “bingoers.” It can be a great opportunity to socialize for those who may be introverted, as the game itself is the focus and there’s no pressure to make small talk, yet conversations tend to bubble up naturally.
  • It’s fun! The story goes as follows: Edwin Lowe named his game after a friend who was playing became so excited when she won that she shouted, “Bingo!” The game can be varied to keep it interesting, and a talented caller — the person calling the numbers — can make it quite entertaining.
  • It (usually) has prizes. Sometimes the prize may just be bragging rights for the winner, but more often than not there are tangible prizes, and sometimes they’re of high value!

Bingo for Seniors: More Than Just a Game

Although the concept of bingo is simple, playing the game involves brain activity and motor skills that can provide mental and physical health benefits. Some of these benefits are particularly helpful for older adults who want to fend off a decline in cognition and other diminished abilities that can accompany the aging process.

These are several of the mental and physical health benefits associated with playing bingo:

Engages the Brain

To play, you have to listen to the caller and scan your card to see if it contains the number called. If it does, you have to mark the number and be ready for the next number to be called. You also have to identify the various ways in which you can win (straight horizontal or vertical line, diagonal line, four corners, etc.). Winning strategies can change from game to game.

You may choose to challenge yourself by playing multiple cards at once. Meanwhile, there are conversations going on around you, and you might be participating in one or more of them. You have to be able to multitask and focus. Plus, the game tends to move at a relatively quick pace.

Preserves Hand-Eye Coordination

Manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination can diminish in older adults, especially in those who’ve experienced a stroke or those living with a debilitating condition such as Parkinson’s disease. Something as simple as marking a number on a card can help improve dexterity and hand-eye coordination when repeated as often as it is during bingo, and when done on a regular basis.

Prevents Isolation and Depression

As noted, bingo is a social game. Even when played online, players interact and chat with each other. For some older adults, the chance to socialize is more of a priority than playing is. It’s also a game the whole family can play, so it’s great for encouraging intergenerational connections. 

Improves Sense of Well-Being

The competitive nature of the game is stimulating, and the prospect of winning creates excitement. Yet being around other people who enjoy playing also leads to a feeling of camaraderie, a subtle sense of shared purpose. Playing bingo is a pleasurable experience that appears to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good and can affect memory, concentration, sleep, and other functions of the brain and body.

Speeds Recovery

Patients who engage in recreational activities like bingo have shorter hospital stays and appear to recover faster following surgery or illness as compared with those who did not, research indicates.

Relieves Stress

Any social event where people are relaxing and having fun can alleviate stress. The diversion from whatever might be causing worry or anxiety is only one reason playing bingo reduces stress. Add in the social environment, the release of dopamine, the fun, and all the benefits of laughter, and it’s easy to see how playing bingo for an hour (or a few) can strip away your stress.

Adapting Bingo Games for Seniors

Fortunately, modifications can be made to overcome challenges for seniors playing the game, such as low vision or limited manual dexterity. It may be something as simple as using high-contrast, large-print cards, or providing ink daubers and paper bingo cards instead of using reusable cards and tokens. Another option is to use bingo cards with colored, transparent shutters the player slides down to cover numbers as they’re called.

Variants of the game are available for people with early dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Some play with bingo cards that only use the numbers 1-29, with just nine numbers per card. Some use colors or other visual cues instead of numbers.

Music bingo is another senior bingo variant. Ready-to-enjoy musical editions are available for purchase, but you can also create your own if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort. Older adults with intermediate dementia may be able to play musical variations of the game, since the memory of music stays with us longer than nearly any other kind of memories.

When thinking about bingo prizes for seniors, tailor your choices appropriately. Many older adults will be pleased with the same prizes younger adults would like. Be considerate, though, and include prizes for those with limitations, whether physical or mental. Not everyone appreciates knickknacks, and some seniors have limited space in their homes, so focusing on useful prizes may be a good idea. If people of all ages will be playing, include prizes that just about anyone would like to win — a little ingenuity can come in handy.

Bingo Is Big in Our Communities!

We don’t wait for a special occasion to have fun with bingo at Park Senior Villas. We include bingo among our regularly scheduled activities because residents love it, and it’s an activity their family and friends can enjoy when they’re here.

We do go out of our way, though, to celebrate National Bingo Day every June. We make a big splash with our Bingo Extravaganza, inviting friends, family members, and other guests from the community to join the fun. It’s an entire evening of games and good times, with food, music, a dessert table, and prizes — including a chance to win $1,000 in each Park Senior Villas community.

If you’re interested in learning more about the activities we offer for older adults, including those who are with us for assisted living, memory care, or respite care, we invite you to come play some bingo or RSVP for any of our events. If you want, we’ll also set up a time for you to take a personal tour. Come visit, and you’ll see how we use games and activities, like bingo, to enhance residents’ quality of life every day. Even if you don’t play along, there’s a good chance you’ll share a smile, have a few laughs, and eliminate some stress of your own.

Featured Image: Pressmaster / Shutterstock