Gambling among older, primary-care patients: an important public health concern

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2005 Jan;13(1):69-76. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajgp.13.1.69.


Objectives: Authors assessed the prevalence rate of gambling in a sample of elderly patients (over age 65) and evaluated the sociodemographic characteristics, health, cognitive status, and psychiatric comorbidities of elderly gamblers.

Methods: This study is a cross-sectional survey of gambling habits. A random sample of older adults with a scheduled primary-care clinic appointment was selected and screened with the General Health Questionnaire and questions about suicidality and alcohol use. Also, participants were asked about their gambling habits.

Results: Of 843 screened patients completing the gambling questionnaire, 69.6% reported that they had participated in at least one gambling activity in the last year. At-risk gamblers were defined as those who reported having bet more than $100 on a single bet and/or having bet more than they could afford to lose in the last year. Of those responding, 10.9% were identified as at-risk gamblers. The strongest predictors of at-risk gambling behavior were being a binge drinker, presence of current posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, minority race/ethnicity, and being a VA clinic patient. Subjects with mild-to-moderate cognitive impairment were just as likely as those without impairment to gamble and to report at-risk gambling behavior. At-risk gambling behavior was not significantly associated with gender, current or past depressive symptoms, or cigarette smoking.

Conclusions: These data raise a significant public health concern that gambling behaviors are prevalent in older adults. Additional research is needed to further define the determinants of gambling behavior in older adults and evaluate the social, health, and economic costs and benefits of gambling by older adults, especially among those groups determined to be at risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Office Visits
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires