A weekend bus trip to the casino might sound like a fun and social activity for your retired mom or dad. But if these trips are frequent and seem to take priority over other activities, it might be time to look closer and see if your parent has a gambling problem.
Numerous studies over recent years have shown that aging adults are not afraid to gamble with their retirement savings, pensions and Social Security checks. For example, 64 percent of those who visited casinos in 2012 were 50 years or older, according to the American Gaming Association. And David Oslin, an addiction researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, found in his 2005 study that of the 843 seniors aged 65 and older that were interviewed, 70 percent had gambled in the previous year. Of most concern, was that fact that nearly 10 percent of the chance-takers said they gambled away more that they could afford to lose - a sign of problem gambling.
While most adult children want their parents to enjoy their retirement years and stay out of how they spend their money, if you fear your parent is gambling more than they can afford to, it is wise to learn more and potentially take action. Below, are some tips to help you get started.
"I'm Gambling Too Much."
Source: Michael Dorausch/Flickr
1. Learn the signs of problem gambling. Activities that involve gambling are easy to find in the U.S. Whether it is a slot machine at the casino, a poker game with friends, or a game of chance at the church fair, there are many opportunities around us daily to potentially make so-called easy money. While most of us may never develop a gambling problem, as many as eight million people in the U.S. can be considered problem gamblers, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). The signs of problem gambling, according to the council, are "increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, 'chasing' losses," and continuing to gamble in spite of mounting financial issues, which can include everything from not being able to pay current bills or accruing gambling debts.
2. Discuss why gambling is appealing to your parent. A bet here and there can make watching a basketball game or taking a chip shot a little more interesting. Buying a lottery ticket can make us dream of all the things we'd do if we became a millionaire. A day at the casino or horse races with friends can be fun and break up the monotony that can be part of retired life. By talking about what your parents like about gambling - and what they don't - you can get a better sense of not only what they need in their life, but whether gambling might be a problem. For example, if you parent says they like going to the casino because they feel less lonely there, the issue might be social isolation rather than gambling. Or if you learn your parent is frequently betting hundreds of dollars on sporting events, then it might be more than a friendly wager and instead problem gambling. Keep in mind during these discussions that as with many addictions, someone with a gambling problem might refuse to admit they have one.
3. Find help or alternatives. If you suspect your parent is gambling simply because they are lonely or bored, try to find some other activities that might be of interest to them. Many communities have activities and clubs for seniors and many volunteer agencies rely heavily on retirees helping during the hours many others have to work. School districts and colleges also often offer low-cost or free classes for seniors. If you suspect that wagering is truly the draw and your parent might have a gambling problem, there are also steps you can take. You might wish to start with your parent's physician, particularly if you have noticed new and unusual behaviors. Declining health, medications and ailments such as dementia can cause many problems, including poor judgment or impulse control, which can help fuel problem gambling. If health is not a factor, you can reach out to the NCPG's National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700. The 24/7 helpline can connect you with screening tools, local resources, and treatment facilities.
It's not always easy to spot someone with a gambling problem, especially if we aren't living nearby or privy to their bank statement. And when it comes to our parents, most of us want to respect their choices and not treat them like they can't manage their lives. But problem gambling can be destructive and if not addressed, can leave your parent embarrassed, financially strapped and stressed. While you can't force your parents to stop gambling, taking some steps to provide them with resources and support will let them know your concerns and willingness to help them get better.
Patrick O'Brien is CEO and co-founder of Executor.org, an online resource that helps executors manage their responsibilities and duties in this complex role. The tool includes a helpful step-by-step interactive guide for executors and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets.
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