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Monday, 26 February, 2001, 00:47 GMT
Eyes down to keep mind sharp
Bingo may be the key to keeping mental abilities
Bingo may be the key to keeping mental abilities
Playing bingo may enable people to safeguard a "full house" of mental faculties.

Southampton University psychology researcher Julie Winstone is running tests to investigate whether playing the game has long-term psychological benefits.

Bingo - a favourite game of many pensioners - needs visual skills and memory.

Three million people play the game in the UK every year.

Players have to be able to check numbers off quickly and need rapid hand-eye co-ordination.

It may be that keeping mentally active helps to maintain mental alertness

Julie Winstone
University of Southampton
But, says Ms Winstone, those are exactly the skills which were thought to decline as people get older.

Chess and bridge playing have been examined in the past, but they require "stored" skills and moves that can be learned and remembered over time - unlike the "on-line" reactive mental abilities required in bingo, according to Ms Winstone.

She is hoping to recruit people from young adults upwards, to track how mental skills change.

Nine out of ten bingo players are over 70 and many play two cards or more at once.

Many even bring knitting to keep them occupied while they play, or play the cards upside down to make the games just that little more difficult.

Mental decline 'inevitable'

Ms Winstone said her research could mean the optimum number of bingo games needed to keep minds alert could be determined.

She said: "If we can find out an amount of practice that people can do to maintain these abilities, it could have serious implications for how these facts can be used.

"I know its often played in nursing homes and residential homes. If we can pin down how much it needs to be played, it would help a lot."

Ms Winstone is conducting the research single-handed as part of her PhD studies.

She said: "Age-related decline in mental abilities may be partly due to lack of use.

"Mental decline is inevitable, just like physical decline. However just as keeping physically active helps ward off the signs of physiologically ageing, it may be that keeping mentally active helps to maintain mental alertness."

Mental skills

She said people who played those games often used their mental skills in many other situations too.

But she said: "A lot of people who go to bingo have said it is one of the only times they leave the house.

Kelvin Stacey, spokesman for Rank Group Gambling Division, which owns Mecca Bingo, said: "For those people who play bingo, it gives them a great deal of interest and a great deal of excitement.

"People go and have a bit of fun. but they have to concentrate too.

"It's good for people. It stops them becoming a couch potato."

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