Gambling in Seniors: Is it Addiction or Dementia?
Matthew was a very successful real estate developer who had amassed a sizable retirement nest egg for his family. But within a few years after turning 60, that retirement fund was completely gone, Matthew was in debt, and the IRS was coming after him. His loving wife of 41 years discovered that in the span of just a couple years, Matthew had gambled away their entire life’s savings even though he had never been a gambler prior to that. On top of this, he was acting like such an insensitive jerk she was contemplating divorcing him. What had happened to her husband, the man who had been so smart with his money and such a kind, caring guy for all of his life? How could someone with no history of addiction become addicted to gambling so quickly?
When gambling addiction isn’t really an addiction.
Matthew had already gone through a traditional addiction program for treatment, but it didn’t work. His wife had heard that there is more than one type of addiction and that brain imaging can help with diagnosis and treatment, so she took her husband for a brain scan. The results of his brain SPECT imaging test didn’t correlate with any of the 7 types of addiction. Instead, the scan showed that he was suffering from an underlying neurodegenerative disease called frontotemporal dementia.
What is frontotemporal dementia?
Frontotemporal dementia is precipitated by the progressive loss of nerve cells in the frontal or temporal lobes, resulting in shrinkage of these important brain regions.
What are the symptoms of frontotemporal dementia?
This type of dementia is associated with changes in behavior, personality, and language, and sometimes symptoms of mental illness. Symptoms can include:
• Lack of impulse control
• Lack of judgment
• Inappropriate behavior
• Overeating or binge eating
• Compulsive behaviors (like gambling disorders)
• Neglecting hygiene
• Mood swings
Why can the condition be hard to diagnose?
“But his memory is perfect,” said his wife, who was having trouble understanding how her husband could have dementia. She always thought memory loss was the hallmark of dementia. Although problems with memory are the main sign of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, it is not associated with all types of dementia.
Can frontotemporal dementia be treated?
The best way to reduce brain atrophy, or shrinkage, is to eliminate, prevent, and treat any of the risk factors that steal your brain health. For Matthew, getting an accurate diagnosis gave him a blueprint for treatment. First, he agreed to hand over all financial matters to his wife, then he addressed his risk factors, which resulted in improvement in his behavior.
Amen Clinics, where Matthew had his brain scanned and underwent treatment, helps people with all types of dementia and has developed a program that addresses the 11 most important risk factors that affect the health of your brain.
If you or a loved has experienced sudden, concerning, or worsening changes in behavior or personality, schedule a visit or call 888-288-9834 for a comprehensive evaluation.