Seniors are the fastest growing population of problem gamblers, according to a survey from the University of Pennsylvania. With the increasing number of retiring baby boomers, experts are concerned how this trend will socially and economically impact a whole generation as well as their children who may end up shouldering the burden of care if grandma gambles away her nest egg.
Casinos have increasingly been cultivating environments that will encourage the over-65 retired population to spend their free time and their disposable income gambling. By providing transportation, food, drinks and sometimes accommodations, seniors fill the floors of casinos during the slower weekday hours.
And older adults are not exempt from the perils to which problem gambling can often lead. More than half of the visitors to casinos in 2014 were aged 50 or older and the gambling industry is finding new ways to draw more older clients in each year. Many provide wheelchairs and walkers, stock incontinence products in bathrooms, and offer free shows geared to older patrons. More concerning, some establishments provide free shuttle service to residents of retirement communities on the day their social security allowance arrives.
All this target marketing has addiction professionals worried about seniors who may be gambling away their life savings and left with no money for essentials. Studies have found that as many as 4 million older adults in the United State (one in eleven) may have a gambling problem, betting more than they can afford to lose.
Slot machines are one of the most addicting forms of gambling and a favorite among seniors. They are also one of the biggest profit generators for casinos. Seniors with dementia may be particularly vulnerable to slot machines, not able to control impulsive behavior or fully comprehend the potential financial impact. A 2012 study at the University of East Anglia, England, found that older adults who have undiagnosed forms of dementia may be particularly prone to playing slot machines repeatedly, drawn in by the reward system and unable to walk away. In other cases, gambling behavior can be a side effective of drug therapy for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease.
In addition to financial losses, excessive gambling causes seniors to remain sedentary for hours at a time, lost in the slot machine’s promise of riches. Not walking around, likely eating less than nutritious meals and spending hours in front of a video screen, along with the potential to lose a lifetime of savings, should have caregivers paying careful attention to regular casino trips by older relatives.
To learn more about gambling addiction and to take an online screening test visit the National Council on Problem Gambling at www.ncpgambling.org visit or for more help for a gambling addiction visit www.gamblersanonymous.org .