Senior gambling: Amusement or addiction?

Today’s seniors are an active bunch, including those with physical limitations. They like to be busy, distracted and entertained. I can testify to that. By now, everyone has heard about the male stripper who performed in a New York nursing home. Opinions have been flying on both sides of the issue. It was an activity requested by the facility’s Resident Council. Perhaps they were tired of bingo.

Today’s activity directors must look beyond craft projects, exercise and singalongs to find venues that engage and provide socialization for residents. With casinos popping up around the country, it’s not difficult to plan an excursion to one of these gaming meccas. With the hum of slots machines, the colorful light displays and the opportunity to “beat the house,” these senior-friendly establishments have become amusement parks for older Americans.

For some—and age is not necessarily a factor—gambling can become an addiction. While some reports indicate that the new accessibility of gambling houses can tempt seniors to overspend and become lost in the fantasyland of wagering, are these excursions really that harmful to your residents?

I’m sure that it’s a different scenario for seniors who are not living in a long-term care setting. They can fall prey to the lures, offers and hypnotic atmosphere. It’s not unheard of that some individuals do lose their homes, their life savings. They are lonely and bored. That’s where family should step up! If mom or dad were taken out to dinner, a movie, a grandchild’s soccer game, perhaps the attraction of the casino’s noise and glitz wouldn’t be as strong.

But what if the family of one of your residents objects? What if the resident can’t afford the outing? But what if he or she really wants to go? Does the older adult only have “rights” until a family member objects? What if gambling is a person’s preferred entertainment and only takes the money he or she is willing to lose?

Of course, not all residents have the cash, physical stamina or mental acuity to deal with the sensory onslaught of sights and sounds. Facilities do have a responsibility to screen those who sign up for the excursion. It’s probably a good idea to let a family (if they are not already active in the resident’s life) know that he or she expressed an interest in the junket. Maybe the family member might want to give the resident some “fun” money.

 If the trip is full or people have been excluded because of frailty or cognition issues, perhaps the activity staff could create a mini-casino in the dining room with paper money and prizes.

For all the criticism of gambling for seniors, there is an upside. Research has shown that gambling does provide older people with physical and psychological benefits.  A study has shown that despite negative consequences, gambling also was credited with “some positive measures (e.g., better physical and mental functioning).”

As the Baby Boomers begin to look for senior settings that encourage them to continue the pursuits they enjoy, activity professionals will be challenged, enlightened and, hopefully, excited by the prospect of dealing with the new American senior—older, but still young at heart.

Topics: Activities , Executive Leadership