|A figurine of `Gambling Granny,’ perched on a wooden stool with a slot machine on her lap `so she can play the slots all night long,’ as the catalogue description says, is a best seller.|
The popular figurine, $28, which the casual living catalogue started selling three months ago, offers further proof of the growing prevalence of gambling among seniors.
The elderly are seen as a group, like teenagers, who are more at risk of developing pathological gambling problems than the general population.
Elderly gambling has increased dramatically in the last quarter-century, as shown in surveys by two federal commissions.
In 1975, the commission's national survey found that 35 percent of people 65 and older had gambled. The commission in 1998 showed a dramatic increase, with 80 percent of people 65 and older saying they had gambled.
For most, gambling is harmless entertainment. But many others are more at risk for developing an addiction, according to Pat Fowler, the head of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling. When the elderly realize they have a problem, she said, their shame is so enormous it is difficult to get them help.
From her observations in Florida, Fowler thinks that the elderly, like teenagers, are more likely to develop an addiction than the general adult population.
Others say that no more elderly develop pathological gambling, the most extreme form of gambling problems, than does the general population – about 1.5 percent, said Dr. Dennis P. McNeilly, a clinical psychologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who studies the impact of gambling on the elderly.
Geriatric specialist Dr. Gerard Kerins sees elderly patients once a week at Norwich's Rose City Senior Center. Problem gambling should become a real concern for the elderly in the region, he said, noting that the proximity of the two casinos in Montville and Ledyard and their inexpensive buffets make them attractive.
Many seniors have lowered levels of the chemical serotonin, Kerins said, and lowered levels have been found in cases of depression. The stimulation of casinos causes serotonin levels to rise, and often people feel better briefly, even if they have ailments.
McNeilly, in Nebraska, agreed. `Gambling has a very antidepressant-type of effect, particularly a casino. It is an environment in which you are welcomed. It is stimulating, it is safe, which is a big point for this age group.’