Down with Bingo? Real Life Programming in Assisted Living

Allow me to begin by saying I have nothing against bingo; it’s a great game to be enjoyed by men and women of all ages. However, I take issue with bingo as the default activity for seniors in retirement homes. If we aren’t careful, it can begin to carry the discriminating connotation that seniors are different from the rest of us. It is a sort of unintentional ageism: we create programs with good intentions to keep seniors active in retirement living, yet insult seniors by insinuating that they are somehow different from the man or woman they once were.

Find entertainment companies specializing in activities appealing to those 50 and up, in our look at seniors' entertainment and interests.

Ageism and bingo

In my Men’s and Lady’s clubs, many prefer dining at high-end restaurants and long walks along the beach. There are even a few ladies who will embark on a daily marathon of I Love Lucy; and yes, some absolutely adore bingo. Yet, ageism is alive when we find a senior lady who spent her adult life going out for nice dinners and walking forced by default into eating dinner in the same dining room each night, doing crafts in the morning and playing bingo in the afternoon.

Still the same lady

The problem of a diluted lifestyle for seniors is further compounded when seniors require assistance (such as that found in senior assisted living retirement communities). What if that same lady who loved walking and nights out on the town now has Parkinson’s which affects her mobility, and dementia which means she has trouble communicating at a restaurant and ordering from a menu? It doesn’t mean it’s time for bingo. She is still the same lady she was in years gone by. The only thing that’s changed is the infrastructure necessary for her to continue to do what makes her smile.

"Real life" activities 

The success of the Sunrise Men's Club has proven that with the right things in place, seniors can do ‘real life’ activities, no matter what their level of assistance. The Sunrise Men’s Club has a vast range of care needs: some drive, a few need to be reminded of their surroundings and several just need a strong arm to walk across the parking lot. It doesn’t matter. As I mentioned in my last article, we go in as one and leave no one behind.

Designated Care Manager 

Behind the scenes, the Men’s Club is a success because of the Designated Care Manager Model: each gentleman has a special care manager here at Sunrise with whom they’ve developed a close bond and is able to do what it takes to facilitate their attendance at Men’s Club. Once they arrive, I take over with my partner, Danielle Appleby, the Director of Activities at Sunrise. Danielle, a former Sunrise Care Manager of 7 years, has been an inspiration for me- her heart and passion is evident each time we witness our seniors experiencing a rebirth of their youthful self. Try watching 18 men dine at a high end steakhouse that otherwise would not be able to- it is a sensational sight.

Real-life programming

Months later, when the ladies began to ask, “When do we get to go out too,” Danielle and I uncovered the full impact of the Sunrise Men’s Club: that real-life programming for all seniors is possible. With the right infrastructure in place, men and women with varying physical and cognitive limitations could come close to continuing the same interests and passions which they had spent a lifetime enjoying—bingo included.

The Designated Care Manager model would function as the key to facilitating the individualized lifestyle. With this method, the woman who loves walking and nights on the town can continue to do so today and in the future. Moreover, the man who’s always loved bingo and crafts can continue that too. The model allows for a house full of seniors to do what is important for them—not just what is posted on numerous activity calendars in senior’s homes across North America.

Danielle provided the following analogy to illustrate how the Designated Care Manager model can facilitate the preferred lifestyle of any senior: “A Care Manager might wish her resident a safe walk this morning, remind her to walk in six months, help get her ready to walk next year, walk with her in two years and push her in her wheelchair in five.”

"Ladies Club"

Armed with resources and a plan, we announced the first Ladies Club meeting at 6pm on Wednesday, May 30th. It followed a slightly different format than the Men’s Club: The first two Wednesdays of each month, we would host a full cocktail and movie night. On the third Wednesday, we would go out on the town to a destination of the ladies’ choice. On the final Wednesday, the ladies expressed their desire to invite the men for a whole-home pub night, filled with live entertainment and dancing.


Seeing the excitement on the faces of the men and women dancing, laughing and sipping drinks is akin to taking a step backwards in time; if you look closely enough, you can almost see wrinkles smoothen, greys color and power return. It is almost as if we are meeting these men and women for the first time, in their glory days. Then again, perhaps it’s just our pretenses fading.

My grandfather used to say to me, “What I was, you are; what I am, you will be.” Looking out onto the dance floor and seeing the ladies and gents exchange glances, I fully disagree: we’re all the same where it counts.


That’s it for now, duty calls. As fate would have it, I have a serious bingo game to attend!


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