SUNDAY, Sept. 28, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Older problem gamblers who ask to be barred from casinos are three to four times more likely than younger gambling addicts to do so because they're afraid they'll commit suicide if they don't stop betting, according to a new study.
The study included 1,601 compulsive gamblers who, between 2001 and 2003, asked to be banned from Missouri casinos. On average, those age 55 and older had gambled for 17 years before "self-exclusion," more than twice the length of time reported by younger gamblers.
Gamblers of all ages cited gaining control, needing help, and hitting rock bottom as their primary reasons for seeking self-exclusion. But 14 percent of older gamblers said they sought help because they wanted to prevent themselves from committing suicide. That's a far higher rate than in any other age group, the study found.
"This is particularly troubling because, irrespective of age, problem gamblers have reported rates of suicidal ideation and/or attempts as high as six times those found in the general population," researcher Lia Nower, of the Rutgers University Center for Gambling Studies, said in an American Psychological Association news release.
The study also found that older adults are more likely than younger adults to prefer non-strategic games such as slot machines, video poker and lottery tickets. These preferences may hasten the onset of gambling problems, the researchers said.
Older adults in the study began gambling at a significantly later age.
"In particular, older women began gambling at about 49 but did not experience serious gambling problems until around the age of 60," the researchers wrote. "In contrast, men began gambling more than a decade earlier, at 37, and also self-excluded around age 60."
The researchers also found that older gamblers were less likely to receive mental health treatment, due to factors such as under-diagnosis, lack of physician referrals, and inadequate Medicare coverage.
"This reluctance to access care, combined with the increased potential for suicidal ideation, could increase the risk for self-harm among older adult problem gamblers without targeted interventions to assist them in accessing services," the researchers wrote.
The study was published in the September issue of the journal Psychology and Aging.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about problem gambling.