I recently returned from Cleveland where I visited my 94-year-old mother.

My mom’s level of activity has diminished during the past several years. When she initially moved from home to Independent Living, she went on every excursion and experienced full days of activities. The woman who took the residents on outings told me she always knew she had at least one passenger whenever she decided on a spontaneous adventure. Now, five years later, my mother is legally blind, has trouble hearing with hearing aids, and it is an effort for her to walk even with a walker. Other than family and doctor visits, she goes to the dining room for three meals, gets her hair done once a week, and plays bingo twice a week—or more if offered.
On Bingo day, my mother apologizes to me saying she hopes I don't mind if she plays Bingo instead of visiting. Sometimes she asks if I want to play. Until my latest visit, I would opt to run errands or catch up on emails. Afterward, she would report on the excitement I missed.

I remember my mother living alone in her home and resisting any conversation on the topic of senior communities because she said she didn’t want to hang out with old people who play bingo. Now, almost six years later, she greets each bingo day with anticipation. Out of curiosity, I decided to play bingo. I was interested in what made Mom change from aversion to excitement and why does she continue to play when she has given up so many other things because of her disabilities.

I found bingo to be more complex than I imagined. Instead of just needing to get one row or one column or one diagonal, there are many different games played. Postage stamp (four boxes in one corner), layer cake (the first, middle and last row), and BIG (the “B” column, “I” column, and “G” column) are a few.

I was surprised to see how hard my mother needed to concentrate. When she first began playing bingo, it was for social reasons. She and her friends would wear matching bingo T-shirts they had custom-made for the four of them. I could hear them laughing when I walked through the door. Now, having lost most of her friends and given up trying to understand conversations, she focuses her attention on hearing the number called, finding the number on her two cards, remembering which game they are playing, and seeing if she has Bingo. Even with focused attention, she doesn’t always see that the number called is on her card. She doesn't always remember which game is being played. But she enjoys playing and continues to win. In fact, the first time I played with her, we both won $2.75! But, that is not the goal she tells me. She is happy to play whether or not she wins.

Bingo can be the only unpredictable and exciting event in my mother’s day. I suspect her concentration and listening skills are as good as they are because she plays bingo every chance she gets.

Studies have shown that bingo has many health benefits. One study reported in Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, A Journal on Normal and Dysfunctional Development, addresses the benefits to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients. The article is titled, “Bingo! Externally supported performance intervention for deficient visual search in normal aging, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Researchers at the University of Southampton found that bingo players had better results in tests of memory, speed, eye-hand coordination, and cognitive function than those who do not play the game—regardless of age.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that an active social life can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress, physical pain, depression, and anxiety while increasing one’s sense of well-being. Statistics show that seniors who maintain social interaction have a much slower decline mentally and physically than those who do not. Connecting with others gives all of us something to look forward to and meaning to our lives.

My plan is to do what I can to make sure bingo continues to be part of my community and will see if it can be offered more than once a week. I will visit, play and volunteer. I will offer to pick up seniors needing a ride. I will thank all the dedicated volunteers who work to make these important opportunities available to our community, our neighbors and our loved ones.

Joanne DeMichele