July 2009 Senior Life Notes - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

July 2009 Senior Life Notes

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This month's focus is on Entertainment - something we could all use a little more of!  But it's important to recognize when Entertainment crosses over into something dangerous...like gambling. 

Did you know that according to Wikipedia Commons, more than one in 10 seniors might have a gambling problem? 

Here's an article provided to KHQ Senior Life by MyOptumHealth.com about just how high the stakes can be for seniors when it comes to gambling and what you can do for yourself or someone you love who might have a problem.

STAKES ARE HIGH FOR SENIORS WITH GAMBLING PROBLEMS
by Eve Glicksman, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

Casinos and bingo halls can be great entertainment for seniors. But for some, the lure of easy money and thrills takes a wrong turn.

Researchers studying gambling habits among those 65 and older found that 11 percent were "at-risk" gamblers. This was defined as placing more than $100 on one bet and/or gambling more than they could afford in the last year.

Even a small loss can have a major impact on retirees with fixed incomes. Some gamble away money they need for prescriptions or rent. Others wipe out retirement savings. Since most seniors don't work, there are no incoming paychecks to recoup losses.

Financial stress from losses can affect health, too. Gambling problems can lead to alcoholism, heart ailments, migraines, stomach distress, depression, anxiety and domestic violence.

Fun that can go awry

Gambling can be a great way for seniors to socialize and get out of the house when lonely or bored. For some, though, it becomes an unhealthy escape from grief, sickness or other troubles. And the gambling industry may play to certain vulnerabilities among older adults to keep them coming.

Women are just as likely as men to gamble. Seniors most likely to gamble in excess are those who:

  • Are binge drinkers
  • Have post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Recently lost a spouse
  • Were just diagnosed with a serious illness
  • Have suffered another type of hardship
  • Take medications that can cloud judgment (such as some Parkinson's disease meds)

Living alone and having no family or caregiver nearby is another risk factor. When there is no one else to pick up on the early signs of addiction and address it, the illness tends to get worse.

Red flags

Gambling can be easy to hide from family, friends and doctors. There are no outward signs like whiskey-breath or slurred speech. Adult children may not know how their parents spend the day. Seniors can tap retirement savings on the sly.

Compulsive gamblers are those who have tried to kick the habit or reduce their bets, but can't. Other signs of a problem in someone:

  • Always talks about gambling wins but rarely mentions losses.
  • Gambling obsession has replaced former activities.
  • Lies to hide gambling. Feels guilt or shame about the habit.
  • Cashes in life insurance, drains savings or taps home equity to gamble. Pawns or sells personal items.
  • Suddenly asks for money or a loan to cover a basic expense.
  • Has mood swings over wins or losses.
  • Neglects personal needs, health, friends or family.

High-risk stakes

When gambling strips seniors of income and assets, they may cope by skimping on medication or food, which can affect their health. Others turn to crime to cover losses. Problem gamblers also have higher rates of attempted suicide.

Older gamblers may not seek help because they are ashamed they didn't know better. When someone else tries to help, the gambler is likely to deny a problem. An adult child who confronts a parent may be accused of greed about an inheritance.

If the gambling problem is dealt with at an early stage, seniors may be able to quit on their own. Finding other ways to spend time - like volunteer work or a hobby - is a start.

If the illness has progressed, it's best to talk to a doctor or addiction counselor about treatment. There are 12-step programs for gamblers (e.g., Gamblers Anonymous) similar to those for alcoholics. Gambling hotlines, inpatient rehab centers and other peer support groups may be helpful, too. A doctor may also advise treatment for anxiety, depression or substance abuse if they are underlying causes.

SOURCES:

  • Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling. Seniors.
  • Levens S, Dyer A, Zubritsky C, Knott K, Oslin DW. Gambling among older, primary-care patients. An important public health concern. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2005;13(1):69-76.
  • Ohio Department of Aging. Many seniors enjoy gambling, ignore risks.
  • Lucke S, Wallace M. Assessment and management of pathological and problem gambling among older adults. Geriatric Nursing. 2006;27:51-57.

For more articles, visit the Senior Life main page at www.khq.com/seniorlife and click on "Articles and Newsletters".

COMPUTER KINDERGARTEN EVENT:

IEL Seniors Program is hosting "Computer Kindergarten for Seniors" at the Hillyard Lab, 4410 N. Market Street - August 10th, 2009 from 3:30pm - 6:30pm.   A class where you can overcome your fears if you have never used a computer or if it has been several years.  Learn to open, use, close programs and much more!  The cost is $22 - register online at http://www.iel.spokane.edu or call (509)279-6030.

FROM OUR PARTNERS: A NEW CONVERSATION with AVISTA 

What drives natural gas rates up can also drive them down.

At Avista, we've been listening to our customers and the community.  Here's what we've heard so far.  You've told us you're concerned about energy costs, and you want to be sure the rates you pay are fair.

Let's start with your natural gas rates.  As a regulated utility, our job is to provide energy whenever you need it.  Rates have to cover two kinds of costs.  First is the cost of delivering energy - the equipment and the people needed to provide safe, reliable service.  We work hard to keep these costs as low as possible.

Second, there's the cost of energy.  We buy natural gas to meet your needs on the wholesale market. We have the purchasing plans and decades of experience that help to keep these costs as low as possible, too.  But ultimately, the cost is set by the market, and natural gas prices can fluctuate up and down. 

The wholesale cost of energy is a major rate driver.  In fact, the cost of natural gas accounts for about 75 percent of your gas bill.  We don't mark up that cost.  You pay what we pay. 

While the wholesale energy costs that we don't fully control can sometimes drive rates up, they can also drive them down.  This year, the price of natural gas has dropped, so we are passing along those savings as a decrease in the rate you pay - the second decrease this year.  Together, these two decreases have lowered average rates about 11 percent.  If prices continue at current levels, we hope to reduce natural gas rates again before year's end.

Normally, a price adjustment like this is announced in the fall.  But because many of our customers have been affected by the economy, we proposed passing on this decrease now, and the regulatory commission agreed. 

That brings us to fairness.  Because we're a regulated utility, our rates are set by the state regulatory commission.  They scrutinize our costs and set rates they consider to be reasonable and fair. 

We're interested in your thoughts and questions.  Share them at www.avistautilities.com/conversation, or e-mail us at conversation@avistautilities.com.

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