How can we get Dad to do something about his gambling and incontinence problems?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

I'm at a loss at what to do. My mom died about 7 months ago and my 87 year old father insists on living by himself and refuses help. He does not cook, clean, do bills, get his medications, or do laundry. He has his share of health problems - colon cancer, a stroke, hypertension, diabetes, but can shuffle around OK.

Here's the problem: my dad's primary interest is gambling. He tries to go to a casino 4-5 times a week to play keno (the closest one is 2 hours away). He can afford it - that's not the problem. The problem is that gambling has become his life. When playing, he will not eat, drink or go to the bathroom. He is incontinent of urine and stays in the casino (and elsewhere) with wet pants. He won't change his clothes without prompting and refuses to wear Depends. He's been to specialists about this issue, but does not follow up on their suggestions.

The gambling and incontinence behaviors are driving me and my siblings crazy. Dad is "competent" and people tell us he is "grieving", so they feel whatever makes him happy is fine. I'm not sure I agree.

Any thoughts or suggestions? Thank you!

Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Although your dad may be "competent", I do agree that it is not normal to gamble to the point that you continue to play with wet pants. I wonder if he even notices that he is sitting around incontinent? The other issue is that he sounds stubborn, since he doesn't want any help from you, although he sounds like he needs it. So, this is a tough problem and you have my empathy!

First, I do wonder if there is some component of dementia going on. He may have vascular dementia, which causes some people to become impulsive with their money. It can also cause denial of incontinence, as they often do not realize it is a problem. What I would recommend is to take your father to a Memory Clinic for full memory testing to make sure this isn't the problem.

Next, depression could be playing a part. On the whole, most people do not grieve by gambling in casinos. I would make sure his health care provider has screened him for depression.

Lastly, remember that gambling can become an addiction, like doing drugs. Addicts often live in denial and will let their other obligations go to support their habit. If all else fails, perhaps you can try contacting Gamblers Anonymous to see what they can recommend.

Good luck!

Community Answers

Hartley answered...

Thank you Jennifer for taking time to reply to this question. I think you picked up on a lot of my dad's issues and you gave me very good advise. I wish we lived in San Francisco! Unfortunately, my dad's doctor is no help. We had him set up with two other specialists, one of them a geriatric specialist who we loved, but my dad will only see his old doctor who is not helping him (hmmm... that stubborn part).

Sadly, I'm thinking we are just going to have this train derail and be there to help pick up the pieces. It is more painful watching this than it was watching my wonderful mother die (who we were all very close to).

Thank you, again, for your reply.

Mlyn answered...

Dear Hartley, My husband and I empathize with the stubbornness issue you have with your father. His mom died over two years ago (my father-in-law made her dying process a living hell), and since then he drives 5 miles DAILY to the cemetery. He will not even consider assisted living, but stays at the family place of business where he has a large office, bathroom, small room with a bed & dresser, and daily contact with his two sons that work there. He antagonizes anyone he comes in contact with out in public. For example, if he sees an overweight woman, he tells her to lose some weight; or someone smoking? He chastises that person for smoking, and yells at them to put that cigarette out. Incontinence is so far not an issue although he has had prostrate issues. He has had coronary bypass surgery, and has a painful leg condition, causing him to walk with a hitch. I just know, as you do, that we just have to wait until he falls, breaks a bone, has surgery, does rehab, and gets taken to a nursing home. They will probably have to drug him first!! My husband health is in jeopardy because of the stress. And so we just wait. :(