Bingo! It’s a common cry that echoes through senior communities. It’s also a seemingly harmless hobby that can lead to trouble if a gambling addiction is involved. With a gambling industry intent on preying on the vulnerabilities seniors face, it’s no wonder some experts caution about seemingly innocuous gambling and refer to casinos as “the new senior centers.” There, older adults can find socialization, acceptance, the chance to forget about their worries—even medical equipment, at times. Whether you’re a senior concerned about your own gambling habits, or someone worried about an older adult you love, the key is understanding the issues and getting help.
Gambling Addiction and Seniors
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association officially classified compulsive gambling as an addiction because it shares many of the same traits as alcohol and drug addiction. Unfortunately, according to the AARP, older Americans make up the fastest-growing segment of gambling addicts. Some reasons include:
- Many seniors have money to spend, and some end up burning through their reserves.
- Seniors with impaired cognition may make poor decisions and have a reduced aversion to risk.
- Depression and loneliness are common among the elderly, and gambling is one way to cope.
- Gambling marketers gear their efforts toward the elderly, offering perks to meet their needs.
Although a gambling addiction can have devastating financial consequences, it can also harm a person’s mental and physical health, creating issues that include:
- Heart Disease
- Intestinal Issues
- Other Stress-Related Disorders
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Signs of a Gambling Addiction
With so much at risk, it’s important to know the red flags for a gambling addiction, whether you’re concerned about a loved one or yourself. They often include:
- Being preoccupied with gambling and neglecting normal activities to take part.
- Needing to wager increasing amounts of money to get the same thrill.
- Using retirement funds or other savings to gamble.
- Pawning or selling personal items to get funds.
- Being unable to set spending and time limits on gambling activities.
- Responding with anger and dishonesty when asked about gambling habits.
Getting the Right Help
The good news is there’s hope for seniors struggling with a gambling addiction—including treatment, support groups, and help from experts, such as social workers. These professionals are trained to help older individuals deal with the special challenges they face, such as mental health or economic issues, which could place them at greater risk for developing a gambling addiction.
Such support is highlighted in a post describing the role of social workers by the online MSW program at the University of Southern California: “Social workers play a critical role in advocating for our growing senior population, in particular those living in poverty, and offer support for physical, psychological, social and/or economic concerns. From providing direct services to influencing policy decisions, the field of social work is committed to serving the needs of the older population and promoting greater quality of life with increased independence and dignity.”
If you or an older loved one have a gambling addiction and are ready to get help, social workers can be a great resource to provide support and guidance. To find a social worker in your area, check out resources from the National Association of Social Workers.
Additional support is available from:
Colleen O’Day is a Marketing Manager and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.’s social work, mental health, and speech pathology programs. Find her on Twitter @ColleenMODay.