Sasha Dawn (left) and Becky, the “Queen of Spintopia.”
Game shows are an American institution. From Wheel of Fortune to Jeopardy! and far beyond, they have been providing us entertainment for decades as well as a brief escape from the chaos of the modern world.
Sasha Dawn is bringing this escape to four local Lorien Health Services nursing homes and assisted living in Maryland. What started out as people playing games together over four iPads during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has turned into something much more.
“It’s a hands-free live show and I showed up, as I did always, with an exaggerated version of myself, yellow blazer, bright red lipstick, a bow, and glasses and we play the silly little game. We forgot all the things where we were in loneliness, and when the game was over and we all waved goodbye, we all cried,” said Dawn. “I met with some LeadingAge experts in the industry and they helped me with the roadmap of what this game should look like. 254 pages later and 19 months later, we have created what’s known today to be Spintopia.”
Spintopia is a customizable variation of Wheel of Fortune, designed specifically for nursing home residents to help keep their mental faculties sharp.
Dawn was inspired by her father, a Vietnam war veteran and Purple Heart recipient, who initially struggled with the isolation of recovering from a stroke. From there, she was connected with Lorien and they set up a 90-day pilot program on April 18, 2022. Expecting them to play 70 games during that period, the residents instead racked up an impressive 99 games played.
“There was a void [with isolation] and that’s what promoted the growth of the product — we could connect humans virtually,” said Dawn. “We’re connecting communities. Taneytown can play against one of their other campuses across the state or across town. It’s bringing the communities together, it’s bringing the staff together.”
Becky, a 95-year-old assisted living resident, was even crowned “Queen of Spintopia” when she became the longest-running contestant playing the game. Not only that, but the game inspired her to pitch a game show of her own. With customers in Maryland, Oregon, Michigan, and Florida, Spintopia is still growing. With any luck, you could soon see it played in a nursing home near you.
“We started where we had only 12 games a month that we were offering for our community to log into and play, and today we’re having 46 games a month,” Dawn said. “So we tripled at the beginning of January 2023. We had less than 10 customers and today, we have more than 50. We’re trying to get a foothold and help people understand, and I think we have.”