Recreational gambling appears to be associated with good health in older adults

September 09, 2004

Unlike younger recreational gamblers who show high rates of alcohol use and abuse, depression, bankruptcy and incarceration, there appears to be an association between recreational gambling and good health among elderly persons, according to a Yale study in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Rani Desai, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, said it is not clear why there is a positive correlation of good health in moderate gamblers 65 years and older. It may be, she suggested, that healthier adults who are able to gamble are simply healthier to begin with. There may be other reasons as well, Desai said.

"Although the underlying reasons remain hypothetical, proposed reasons included the increased activity, socialization, and cognitive stimulation that are related to engaging in gambling," Desai and her co-authors said. "Such a mechanism would be consistent with the literature on healthy aging, which indicates that more socially and cognitively active elders are, in general, healthier."

The Gambling Impact and Behavior Study by Desai and her colleagues involved telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 2,417 adults. They compared the health status of recreational gamblers who had gambled in the past year with persons who had not gambled. Their health, which was self-reported, was measured according to alcohol use, abuse and dependence, substance abuse and dependence, depression, mental health treatment, subjective general health, incarceration and bankruptcy. They also compared gamblers 18-64 years old with gamblers 65 and older.

Despite their findings, Desai said it is important to continue to monitor gambling behaviors in older adults since the activity can become highly addictive. Older gamblers tend to favor non-strategic games, such as the lottery, bingo, keno, and slot machines, which are particularly addictive, Desai said. Also, older gamblers are more likely to be living on fixed incomes and the effects of gambling could be financially devastating to them, she said.

Co-authors included Paul Maciejewski, David Dausey, Barbara Caldarone, and senior author, Marc Potenza, M.D., all from Yale.
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Citation: American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 161; pp 1672-1679

Yale University

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