March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, sponsored by the National Council on Problem Gambling(NCPG). The NCPG provides education about gambling addiction and available resources for help.
Statistics show that over seven million Americans have a gambling problem, and seniors are the fastest-growing group of gamblers. As recently reported by AARP, the $40 billion a year gambling industry aggressively targets older customers who can fill a casino during off-peak hours, enticing them with free bus trips, meals, discount prescription cards and "comped" hotel accommodations.
For many seniors, a casino offers an escape from boredom, isolation and depression. But declining cognition, as is found in dementia and Alzheimer's patients, can reduce a person's aversion to risk and make him unable to stop when he's reached his limit. Dopamine drugs, often used to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease and restless legs syndrome, have also been associated with compulsive gambling as a side effect.
The NCPG warns that a person might have a gambling problem if they:
- brag about gambling, exaggerate wins and minimize losses.
- are restless and irritable when not gambling.
- gamble to win back what they have lost.
- borrow money to gamble.
- lie about the time spent gambling or unpaid debts.
- jeopardize a relationship to gamble.
Treatment is available for compulsive gambling. But gambling could be a symptom of an even larger medical problem, or a complete loss of the ability to manage money, so these signs should not be ignored.