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The perception that gambling is a normal, harmless form of entertainment contributes to problem gambling among older adults

Tse S, Hong , Son P, Wang C et al.  Gambling behavior and problems among older adults: A systematic review of empirical studies  Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. 2012; 67(5): 639-652.

Review question

What factors contribute to the gambling practices of older adults?


With the aging population and increased availability of gambling facilities, older adults are at an increasing risk for developing problem gambling (PG) or pathological gambling disorder (PGD), which can lead to various physical and mental health concerns.

Legalized gambling presents a recreational opportunity on which older adults can spend their free time and fixed income.

This review aims to summarize the available, empirical evidence on the determinants and health consequences of gambling for older adults, in order to identify gaps in current studies, and to inform future research on developing methods and strategies to improve problem gambling outcomes.

How the review was done

A detailed search was conducted of a number of electronic databases for studies published from 1996 to 2010. Studies that focused on gambling disorders and older adults were included in the review.

A total of 271 studies were identified in searches, and 62 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.

The authors did not acknowledge any funding sources for this review.

What the researchers found

The reported prevalence rates of lifetime problem gambling ranged from 0.2% to 12.9%, and recent problem gambling ranged from 0.3% to 10.4%.

The information collected on factors that motivate older adults to gamble was divided into seven categories: participation rates for gambling; prevalence rates of disordered gambling; motivation for initially beginning to gamble; risk factors for disordered gambling; protective factors for disordered gambling; negative health outcomes from gambling; and positive health outcomes from gambling.

Key factors identified that increase the likelihood of older adults gambling include the perception that gambling is a normal, harmless form of entertainment, emotional feelings such as the thrill of winning and socialization, as well as alcohol, food and the excitement of the gambling location.


There are many factors that motivate the aging population to gamble. Despite the few positive outcomes, the negative consequences of gambling for older adults highlight the need for preventive strategies. Limitations to this study include that only western countries were included, and a lack of focus on the potentially beneficial impacts of gambling for older adults. Further investigation is recommended to address alternative forms of gambling to reflect the changes in lifestyle of older adults.


Risk factors
Aspects making a condition more likely.

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