NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Monday, November 12, 2007

Are Older Adults Who Gamble Really at a Higher Risk?

Dr. Rani Desai of Yale's School of Medicine presented a study today that examined older adults and gambling. Given that older adults are one of the fastest growing demographic segments of the population, she said it is important to understand the risk factors and health correlates for recreational gamblers.

Desai explained that gambling has both positive and negative effects for older adults. She pointed out that some gambling provides opportunities for socialization, and sensory and cognitive stimulation. In her study she found residential and assisted-care facilities use gambling activities as part of their programming and report that bingo and other gambling activities are the biggest social activities at the homes.

Desai pointed out that older adults do have some unique risk factors related to their age. She found they have a preference for slot machines, which she notes may be more addictive than other kinds of casino games. She also pointed out that older adults are vulnerable because they cannot recoup losses as they are no longer working and because they are more at-risk for decreased cognitive function and dementia that could lead to poor decision making.

But overall, Desai said she found that older gamblers were, in fact, healthier. They rate their own physical health as significantly better than older non-gamblers and do not have the increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse that younger gamblers do. In light of these findings, Desai posed the question: Does this mean gambling is good for you? She said, Maybe. She explains that healthy aging literature has shown that older adults who remain socially and physically active do live longer and gambling activities can provide an opportunity for these kinds of activities. She goes on to note that as a scientist, she must also consider that older adults who gamble may already be healthier than their non-gambling counterparts, as they are well enough to go out and participate in gambling activities.

Joni Vander Bilt of the University of Pittsburgh also presented a study on older adults and gambling with similarly interesting findings. She said that the older gamblers tended to be male and less educated than non-gamblers, but she said they also have greater social support systems, tend to be less depressed, and have better health and higher cognitive function than their non-gambling counterparts.

To access Desai's full study, click here. For more information, visit the NCRG Conference Resource Page.


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