Bingo - More Than Meets The Eye

By Karen Austin on August 19, 2014

Bingo--More Than Meets the Eye

The large windows in the dining room reveal storm clouds rolling in from the west. A kitchen worker removes the remnants of the lunch dishes while two activity directors put bingo cards at each place setting.

Over the next thirty minutes, the room fills with residents. Some move purposefully with the aid of a walker, wheelchair or scooter. Another resident comes in chatting with the certified nurse assistant who pushes his wheelchair. Constance arrives early so that she can lay claim to the best set of bingo cards. Her gaze shows great concentration. Is she using numerology to select the cards? Or does she feel the degree of luck contained in each?

Attending Monday bingo in the skilled nursing centre 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 manoeuvre 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 neighbour 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 parlour 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.

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By Karen Austin| August 19, 2014
Categories:  Care Giving|Dementia

About the Author

Karen Austin

Karen Austin

After teaching college English for 30 years, I decided to turn my attention to the generation above me. I recently earned a master's in Aging Studies from Wichita State University, so now I'm a gerontologist. I volunteer at a skilled nursing centre. I also teach classes in Aging Studies for WSU. Email: karendaustin@gmail dot com.

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