Addictions and the Older Adult

Topic Overview

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  • There are an increasing number of older adults that may use gambling as a way to cope with things such as boredom, loneliness, bereavement, isolation, stress or pain. In some this may lead to an addiction.
  • Addiction may not be properly assessed or identified because the signs and symptoms may resemble those of other chronic health conditions or physical, social or emotional conditions associated with aging. However, if addictive gambling, remains undetected and untreated, it can lead to negative health consequences or financial issues.
  • An older adult's health can be affected by addictive gambling. Effects may include malnutrition (spending money on gambling rather than food), high blood pressure, poor mental health, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety, poor hygiene; and fatigue.

What You Should Know

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  • Compared to other age groups, older adults spend the most money on gambling
  • In general, older adults prefer bingo, lotteries, VLTs, casinos, or other games that are easy to play and require less social interaction and memory of complex rules.
  • Some forms of gambling are legal and include raffles, lottery tickets, Sport Select tickets, casinos, racetracks, VLTs and bingo. However, games that fall outside of government regulations, such as placing a bet with a bookie, are illegal.
  • There is a perception it is more socially acceptable for older adults to gamble than it is for other age groups. Here are some reasons older adults might gamble:
    • as a way to cope with emotions linked to retirement, death of a spouse or friend, change in health, or boredom
    • to relax and escape problems
    • for recreation
    • accessibility and proximity
    • as an inexpensive holiday
    • in hope of supplementing income or winning large sums
    • to recover money lost from an earlier gambling episode
  • Gambling has been associated with an increase in depression and alcohol use.
  • If there is rapid loss of income, an older adult may be at greater risk of malnutrition, homelessness, medication noncompliance, and inability to meet monthly financial obligations, further worsening their overall health. The results of loss of income may lead to depression, anxiety, paranoid ideation, poor mental health, poor hygiene, forgetfulness, increased fatigue or an increase in infections.

Things to Consider

Warning Signs

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    An Older adult may have a problem with gambling if they
    • spend a significant amount of time gambling
    • spend more money than intended on gambling
    • gamble until their last dollar is gone
    • place larger and more frequent bets
    • look for new places to gamble
    • make more frequent or larger withdrawals from financial reserves, retirement funds, and/or life insurance policies
    • take out loans or borrow money
    • have growing debt
    • are unable to meet living expenses, such as rent, food, and medication
    • appear dazed or withdrawn while gambling
    • become defensive, appear guilty, avoid the topic or argue when asked about gambling
    • skip, or avoid their usual social functions or activities
    • lie about gambling wins and/or losses, time spent gambling and/or their whereabouts
    • boast about winning and downplays the losses
    • talk or think more and more about gambling
    • feel frequent highs and lows
  • If you notice changes in the older adult you care for or believe they have a gambling problem it is important to:
    • talk to them about it in a supportive, non-confrontational way and express your concerns,
    • offer to help them seek help in the form of counselling.
    • mention these changes to their physician or care team,
    • ask the person and their care team about what they think might be causing these changes and when and if they too have noticed them

Seek Help

  • For more information and support, please contact the Addictions 24-Hour Helpline 1-866-332-2322.

Helpful Resources

Last modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2022, 8:08 AM