Supporting Older Americans Posted On

May is Older Americans month, which is a great time to pay special attention to our aging loved ones and how they spend their time.  Many older Americans are spending more time than the average American engaging in gambling activities.  It’s important for everyone to understand the risks these older Americans face with gambling and what you can do to help keep them safe.  For the purpose of this article, Older Americans are defined as people about 65 years old and older.  For this population of Americans, gambling can quickly transition from entertainment to an overwhelming addiction. 

Older Americans and Gambling

Every day, many older Americans will visit different venues to gamble.  So, why do Older Americans gamble?  They tend to gamble for two main reasons; for recreation and/or to cope with stress by attempting to escape their problems.  Problems can begin for older Americans who gamble, especially if they’re looking to escape or cope with their problems by gambling.  Some issues older Americans may choose to escape from by gambling include:

  • Socialization.  Many seniors face a change in their social network.  Many Americans enter retirement around the age of 65, which reduces their social network since they will no longer interact with co-workers on a daily basis.  Also, over the course of their life, they may have lost loved ones (i.e. grandparents, parents, siblings and friends).  Although older Americans may be gambling for social purposes, the decreasing number of people they socialize with on a daily basis may bring feelings of grief and loss, and they may decide to gamble to escape such negative feelings.
  • Entertainment.  Whether it is raising children, family or cultural needs, working, or a blend of all three, most people get up every day because of responsibilities.  Older Americans face the change of reduced responsibilities.  Although celebrated as a time to do anything, there may also begin to be a struggle with the lack of a purpose.  To cover for this lack of purpose, older Americans may seek entertainment to escape the grief of feeling as though they’ve lost their purpose in life.
  • Limitations.  As everyone ages, the human body goes through changes, and like all things, it breaks down.  Whether it is a recurring problem with a knee injury, diminishing eye sight making reading more difficult, or a slowing ability to think and recall information, the aging human body will develop limitations.  As these limitations start to impede on older American’s lives, it makes it difficult to continue lifelong interests (i.e. reading or running).  Older Americans may begin to seek alternative activities to replace previous forms of entertainment and escape the grief that may be associated with their increasing limitations.

Older Americans and Problem Gambling

Although gambling is intended as a form of entertainment, like many activities, gambling comes with risks.  Some older Americans may have never gambled before in their lives and may be totally unaware of the risks associated with gambling.

The biggest risk of gambling is addiction.  Gambling can become an addiction, and, for many people, it could become a life-destroying addiction.  Older Americans may not be aware that gambling can become an addiction and believe the myth that problem gambling is a moral failing, which is completely FALSE.  They need to be educated that gambling addiction is a brain disease that may require clinical treatment for recovery.

Warming Signs of Problem Gambling

There are many warming signs of problem gambling.  Below is a list of problem gambling warning signs that can help identify the possibility of an older American struggling with problem gambling.

  • Gambling alone;
  • Lack of other activities;
  • Changes in financial status;
  • Sudden change in medication regimen;
  • Changes in mood or behaviors;
  • Impatience with loved ones because of interruption from gambling activities;
  • Willingness to eat less, or go without food, so that they can gamble;
  • Gambling with money designated for necessities, such as rent and medications; and
  • Spending retirement funds to gamble.

Take Action to Help

Living with an older American offers a huge advantage to help them navigate their life changes and help reduce their risk of problem gambling.  But, even if they live on their own, in a seniors community, or in a nursing home, there are definitive actions loved ones can take to help.

  • Communication: Having a strong, open relationship is a great first step.  This allows for more sharing, and a stronger chance to identify problems before they get out of hand.  Asking questions about their gambling activities will help open the door to learn more and keep reduce their risk of developing a problem.
  • Education: Education is key to identifying problems.  One great place to begin would be to watch our video Empty Spaces to learn more about the family effects of a beloved older American’s gambling, and some ideas on how to approach them.  There are plenty of additional resources to learn about problem gambling on our resources page.
  • Work Together:  Working together with older Americans on tasks like paying bills, and budgeting finances is a great way to help them keep track of their finances.  This will help ensure they are spending their money in a healthy manner and not beginning to struggle with problem gambling
  • Additional Help:  Contacting the New York State HOPEline for additional support for a person struggling with problem gambling, or loved one’s negatively affected by someone’s gambling, is a great option.  To get in touch, call the HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY (or 1-877-846-7369).  Calling the NYS HOPEline will bring the caller to a trained clinician who can offer different support options in the callers local community.

Let’s celebrate the rest of May as Older Americans Month by learning more about how gambling can become a problem for some of our loved ones.  Supporting a special older American can be a very fulfilling life endeavor.  Helping them to prevent the dangers of problem gambling can also be fulfilling!  Happy Older Americans Month!