Although still a small issue, it appears that a growing number of older adults are risking their retirement nest eggs due to gambling behaviours that are uncharacteristic and problematic.  The research in this field is sparse but it is known that older adults (age 65+) are at greater risk of becoming addicted to gambling than is the general adult population (age 19+).  Some of the reasons for older adults’ increased vulnerability include:

  • Decreasing cognitive awareness;
  • Seeking social interactions;
  • Managing losses such as the death of a loved one, health changes and diminishing status;
  • Wishing to grow their retirement nest egg;
  • Hoping for the ‘big win’ to leave a financial legacy for the grand kids;
  • Ease of access to unlimited internet gambling;
  • Physiological changes such as those occurring with neurological disorders, decreasing resistance to compulsive behaviours[1]; and,
  • Physical pain reduction during gambling due to heightened concentration on the gambling task.

With a greater availability of both time and money the older adult is targeted by marketers of gambling services.

Isolation is part of the problem

Initially an older adult may become involved in gambling activities, hoping for increased social opportunities.  Seniors social groups are often a provided of bus trips to casinos, bingo halls and other gambling activities.  However, instead of developing deeper social networks through these clubs, the gambling activity becomes the focus.   While gambling the older adult spends a great deal of time away from friends and family and social ties dissolve.  During the activity they are intensely involved reducing their need for conversation, and even increasing their annoyance with anyone who attempts to intrude into their gambling time.  Social isolation, already viewed as  enemy #1  for older adults, means that fewer people are around to suggest that a change in behaviour is needed.

Financial risks and problem gambling

As gambling intensifies and financial losses deepen, an increasing amount of money is spent seeking the ‘big win’ and trying to replace the shrinking nest egg .  For those older adults on fixed incomes, there are limited options to find additional income sources and rebuild their finances.  Consequently a sense of desperation sets in, further means that the detection of a financial problem may occur only after the financial devastation is too deep for recovery.

How big is problem gambling in older adults?

Screening tools for problem gambling in an older adult population are not available although there are a few measurement tools for the general population.  Consequently little is know about the extent of problem gambling in older adult populations.  Rough estimates suggest a rate of 8% in those aged 65+ compared to about 4% in the general adult population.  Unfortunately as older adults become increasingly comfortable with internet technology and as gambling is increasingly offered online there is likely to be an accompanying increase in gambling addictions and financial challenges.  The convenience of gambling access in private homes via the internet at any time of day or night will overcome mobility and health issues while at the same time making it increasingly possible for those experiencing cognitive deterioration to participate in a financially risky and easily hidden activity.