Health centre offers support for gambling seniors

Farzad Fatholazadeh, Centretown News

Farzad Fatholazadeh, Centretown News

Centretown Community Health Centre counsellor Dallas Smith helps seniors control their gambling habit as part of the Lifestyle Enrichment for Senior Adults program.

The Centretown Community Health Centre offers a free gambling support program for senior adults, dealing with an issue for seniors that is generally overlooked by society.

“There is not enough awareness that problems can arise with gambling (for seniors),” said Dallas Smith, a counsellor with the centre’s Lifestyle Enrichment for Senior Adults gambling program.

“And there is not enough awareness about treatment programs like ours that work with people who have problems with gambling.”

The LESA gambling program offers individual counselling services in English and French for adults 55 years and older.

The counselling sessions are held at the centre’s office or more typically in the client’s home.

By offering support to seniors in their homes, the program not only eliminates the issue of mobility, but also provides a safer environment for its clients, free of the stigma and apprehension of coming to counselling.

Smith said the program works through a harm reduction approach rather than an abstinence-based one. The main goal is not to insist that clients stop gambling completely, but to control and limit their gambling in order to prevent its negative impact on their lives.

Smith said this aspect of a more long-term approach is why the program, which currently has about 50 clients, has such positive results.

“Our clients stay in the program anywhere between one to two and a half years,” said Smith.

“Stretching out the treatment program makes it more successful because it allows them time to make the changes to their life. A regular treatment program that is abstinence-based doesn’t have as much success rate with older adults.”

Madeleine, 71, has been a client of the LESA gambling program for over a year and a half and has experienced a real change in her life because of the support.

“The program is fantastic,” said Madeleine. “I’m certainly glad that I have finally found it because it’s unbelievable the help I get. You go to the centre, you join the group, and you suddenly don’t feel so bad about yourself because you meet other people, and it’s helping you get more social again.”

Madeleine is referring to the second aspect of the LESA program: support groups, recreational activities and a social outing once a month.

Smith said the social part of the program is just as crucial as the individual counselling as seniors often gamble because of feeling isolated.

Madeleine agreed that feeling lonely is a large reason why seniors turn to gambling.

“I am alone. I don’t have children. I don’t have anybody to really talk with about my problems,” she said.

“You are gambling sometimes to forget, sometimes to get your money back. There are all kinds of excuses, but it’s because you prefer to be at the casino sometimes rather than at home.”

Clara Sater, a Council on Aging of Ottawa administrative assistant, said gambling among seniors is often due to psychological problems.

“It is a state of mind,” said Sater. “It comes down to a point where when you are old you get a lot more depressed and you lose a lot. If you think you have nothing then why wouldn’t you want to gamble your life away?”

Smith emphasized that the worst aspect about seniors and gambling is their limited financial income – they cannot work to compensate their financial losses like younger generations can.

“When you are 70 it is a lot more difficult to get yourself out of debt,” said Smith.

“You work your entire life to create a financial stability for your retirement, and when you get into gambling all that financial stability is gone. A lot of our clients are living from pension cheque to pension cheque. They don’t have their life savings anymore.”