It's not always just a game! Identify the risk of problem gambling among seniors

The Bottom Line

  • Problem gambling affects up to 11% of the population. In the elderly, it is often associated with other health problems.
  • Some seniors are at higher risk of developing problem gambling due to certain personal and environmental characteristics.
  • Single and socially isolated older men are at greater risk of problem gambling.

You may have heard about the organized bus tours for seniors to visit the casinos in the area, with transportation and meals paid. An Ontario study estimates that 30% of seniors who participate in these activities have moderate to severe gambling problems (1).

Seniors sometimes have a lot of time to fill and taking part in these organized trips is an attractive way out of their isolation. What remains a hobby for the majority of them can, however, become a hell for some who are more at risk of developing an addiction.

A systematic review of 25 studies was conducted to look at the prevalence of problem gambling among adults over 60, but also to identify the determinants and risk factors for problem gambling.

What the research tells us

Personal factors such as low income without the possibility of future earnings, social isolation, addiction to alcohol or other drugs, and physical or psychological health problems, make many seniors vulnerable. Anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and having experienced stressful events increase the risk of problem gambling.

Some studies indicate that single men under the age of 70 and socially isolated, as well as women over the age of 70, are at greater risk of problem gambling, especially if access to a casino is easy and frequent. The stress and lack of stimulation that some seniors experience can lead to an increased satisfaction response in the brain when they gamble, which increases the risk of addiction.

The systematic review also reveals that seniors often have difficulty admitting that they have a gambling problem and believe they can manage it themselves. They are more likely to deny and hide their dependency or financial problems to conform to the expectations of society and their families.

What are some initial steps towards addressing problem gambling among seniors? Informing them about the risks of problem gambling is important, as well as promoting other types of recreational activities to nurture social interaction and reduce isolation.

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  1. CBC. 30% of older people on casino bus tours are problem gamblers, study says. [Internet] 2017. [cited September 2017]. Available from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/casino-bus-tours-problem-gambling-1.4217695
  2. Subramaniam M, Wang P, Soh P, Vaingankar JA, Chong SA, Browning CJ, Thomas SA. Prevalence and determinants of gambling disorder among older adults: A systematic review. Addictive Behaviors. 2015; 41: 199-209. 

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