Why gambling disorder is a bigger issue among older adults
Nationally, about 2% of people who gamble develop a true gambling disorder.
In New Jersey, the prevalence is more than three times the national average. And for older individuals, the rate is even higher.
A number of factors put seniors at a greater risk of disordered gambling than the general population, according to a webinar presented Wednesday by Stockton University and the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey.
And those factors don't have to only involve the desire to win, or a greater amount of disposable income to burn.
"Seniors gamble for social support, some seniors are isolated. Some seniors can gamble as a challenge, a way to stay sharp. It certainly is a way to pass time," said Ken Litwak, treatment coordinator for the Council, which runs the 800-GAMBLER helpline in the Garden State.
Litwak noted older individuals may also suffer from cognitive impairments that change their ability to make the same sound decisions they were once able to make. Gambling also has the ability, at least for some people, to relieve pain or discomfort.
In New Jersey, legal gambling is available in many formats, even from the comfort of your own home. According to Litwak, casinos are "the new senior centers" — featuring scooters and oxygen tanks, and staff who can remember players by name. On top of that, seniors may be enticed to come back through promotions, including free transportation there and back home.
"It's also worth mentioning that casinos are a safe place. There's security, there's cameras," Litwak added.
The Council is neither for nor against legal gambling.
In the most recently issued manual of mental health disorders used by professionals across the country, disordered gambling was included in the section covering addiction. For someone with a gambling disorder, Litwak said, it's hard to quit despite negative consequences related to one's family, career or bank account.
A Rutgers University study in 2017 found that the prevalence rate of wagerers who can be considered problem gamblers or diagnosed as disordered gamblers is about three times higher in New Jersey than elsewhere.
"Not everybody who gambles is going to develop a gambling problem," Litwak said. Seniors are a little bit elevated compared to the general population."
The 800-GAMBLER helpline is a resource for those who feel they may be addicted to gambling or those who know someone with a potential issue. Advice varies on a case by case basis; while some problem gamblers may benefit from quitting the practice altogether, others may be able to control their habit by setting limits — in terms of both money and time — for themselves when gambling.
Litwak said some signs of addiction to watch for include one's loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, blocks of time unaccounted for, and changes in attitude and personality.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.