Gambling is a serious issue and the fastest growing risk group for gambling-related problems are the elderly. A recent national study revealed that casino and bingo gambling surpassed going to the movies, dining, shopping, and golf as the preferred social activity of seniors over 65.
As the number of retirees has grown significantly over the past couple of decades, casinos and other gambling organizations have increasingly catered their services to attract seniors by offering bus transportation, free or heavily discounted meals and drinks, even gambling awards and prices tailored to the elderly. In addition, some seniors are attracted to the social interaction that gambling fosters, such as the attention casino staff will often shower on seniors which may help counter feelings of loneliness or isolation experienced by some of the elderly. Others may see gambling as a way to overcome financial problems or distract themselves from medical concerns.
If you’re a loved one or caregiver of a senior and suspect that gambling might be an issue, signs of a gambling problem include:
- Loss of interest and participation in normal activities
- Increasing emotional and social distance from family and friends
- Unaccounted blocks of time
- Changes in personality and communicativeness
- Missing possessions or assets
- Avoidance of discussions about time or money spent gambling
- Neglect of personal appearance and well-being
Fortunately, there is a growing number of resources dealing with elderly gambling, including the National Council on Problem Gambling. The best place to start, however, is often with an empathetic, non-confrontational conversation about gambling and simply being a kind and helpful listener – this can go a long way in getting your senior to open up, admit a problem, and seek help.
Many seniors may have a cognitive impairment that may prevent them from recognizing they have a problem; others may not understand addiction or feel embarrassment or humiliation about it.
Regardless of the specific circumstances, any suspicion of gambling should be dealt with promptly to prevent a potentially damaging situation from getting worse.