My mom, who cares for my dad with Alzheimer's, has developed a gambling problem. How can I help?

4 answers | Last updated: Dec 04, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father has Alzheimer's. My mother is his primary care taker, and it's taking it's toll on her. She is his full-time caretaker; she has no friends, and no hobbies. Over the last three years, she has developed a severe gambling habit. She has just about spent all their investment money and depleted their home equity. Is there a way to stop her?

Expert Answers

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco.

What a tough situation!

You don't say if your mother's "lack of friends and no hobbies" is a new situation since your father developed Alzheimer's, or whether it goes back a long time. This is important because if your mother once had many friends and hobbies, then your goal would be a relatively simple one of helping her get back on track, and asking her old friends to assist you.

If her relationship with your father has always been your mother's main focus in life, then you"re talking about a much more problematic and challenging situation. Did your mother's gambling habit develop since your father's diagnosis? If so, gambling could be a symptom of her despair at losing her life partner and their future together. She may feel that she has no future; if so, she could be acting this out by gambling away her financial future by depleting their savings and home equity. I mention all this to help you have patience and compassion for your mother as you proceed.

What has your relationship been like with your mother these past few years? Do you have a history of being close? Have you offered to assist with your father's care taking? These are important questions because they speak to your capacity to encourage your mother to get help. You may want to do some research to determine what sort of free or low cost services are available to your mother, like respite care, for example, so she can get regular breaks. Have you identified caregiver support groups for the spouses of Alzheimer's patients? If your mother is concerned about her gambling habit, she may be willing to consult a therapist or attend Gamblers Anonymous. The likelihood of your mother getting assistance will be higher if all she has to do is take phone numbers from you and make the phone calls.

You may want to consult with a family therapist who can coach you on the best way to approach your mother. I'm wondering if you're also concerned that you will end up financially responsible for the situation that your mother is creating. If that is the case, a therapist can help you gain clarity on your own boundaries and limits. It would also be wise to consult an attorney to find out if you have any legal options.

If you and your parents have not been close over the years and you have not been helpful (at least from your mother's perspective) then you may have to accept that your ability to influence her is limited. This doesn't mean you shouldn't encourage her to get help, and support her in doing so. But if she rejects your overtures, all you can do is let her know that you're ready to offer help when she's willing to accept it.

Community Answers

Janol answered...

Is she on ANY meds that would produce this side effect ?There are some connected with certain diseases Ask me ---if you wish.

Sharonann answered...

Several thoughts: 1. Your mother also be losing some cognitive abilities. If you can, check on some other aspects and try to evaluate her decision making process. 2. She may be worried about what her financial situation will be if she loses her husband, and may think that gambling is a way to eventually improve her financial situation. 3. As above, seriously evaluate the medication she's on. There are several that trigger gambling behavior.

Jacobite answered...

I had a cousin with this problem. His wife had him join 'Gamblers Anonymous'. It worked very well. I wonder if you could find a local branch, and persuade your mother to join. Take care of yourself.