Problematic response of the elderly to COVID-19 — 27-country survey

Organisation: Position: Deadline Date: Location:

Survey results from 27 countries suggest that, despite their increased risk of severe illness due to COVID-19, elderly people are not more willing to isolate when asked to, and are not more compliant with several COVID-19 preventive measures. Jean-François Daoust of the University of Edinburgh, UK, has presented these findings.

Among those who become ill with COVID-19, older adults appear to be more likely to be hospitalised or die from the disease. Because of their increased vulnerability, one might expect that elderly people would be more disciplined in complying with preventive measures. However, few studies have yet examined their response.

In the first in-depth study of elderly people’s attitudes and compliance with COVID-19 preventative measures, Daoust examined survey results from 72,417 people of all ages across 27 different countries. The surveys asked about people’s willingness to self-isolate if necessary, as well as their compliance with specific preventive measures, such as hand washing or wearing a mask.

The analysis suggests that elderly people are no more willing than those in their 50s and 60s to voluntarily self-isolate if they begin to feel ill or if they are advised to do so by a clinician or health official. People aged 60 to 80 are also less likely than younger age groups to wear a mask outside their home. However, older people are more likely to avoid public transportation and to avoid small gatherings or having guests over.

These findings suggest that efforts are needed to improve public health strategies to encourage older adults to comply with preventive measures. A deeper understanding of elderly people’s attitudes and compliance could help inform such improvements and, ultimately, reduce the number of deaths to due to the pandemic.

Daoust adds: “Given the vulnerability of elderly people, we should expect nothing else but a greater level of compliance with preventive measures compared to their younger fellow citizens. However, Daoust finds that this expectation is not grounded in reality. The surprising (and quite shocking) findings entails major implications on how we managed and will manage the COVID-19 crises.”

Amongst the most robust consensus related to the COVID-19 disease is that the elderly are by far the most vulnerable population group. Hence, public authorities target older people in order to convince them to comply with preventive measures. However, we still know little about older people’s attitudes and compliance toward these measures. In this research, I aim to improve our understanding of elderly people’s responses to the pandemic using data from 27 countries. Results are surprising and quite troubling. Elderly people’s response is substantially similar to their fellow citizens in their 50’s and 60’s. This research (i) provides the first thorough description of the most vulnerable population’s attitudes and compliance in a comparative perspective (ii) suggest that governments’ strategies toward elderly people are far from successful and (iii) shows that methodologically, we should be more cautious in treating age as having a linear effect on COVID-19 related outcomes.

JF Daoust

PLOS One abstract

Receive Medical Brief's free weekly e-newsletter

Related Posts

Thank you for subscribing to MedicalBrief

MedicalBrief is Africa’s premier medical news and research weekly newsletter. MedicalBrief is published every Thursday and delivered free of charge by email to over 33 000 health professionals.

Please consider completing the form below. The information you supply is optional and will only be used to compile a demographic profile of our subscribers. Your personal details will never be shared with a third party.

Thank you for taking the time to complete the form.