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International Survey Suggests Elderly Adults Have Ambivalent Views on COVID-19 Guidelines

Despite being within the age group at highest risk for severe SARS-CoV-2 infection, a recent survey of elderly adults from 27 countries suggests that the population is not inherently more willing to socially isolate and should not be assumed to be more compliant with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response measures.

In the survey, which was published in PLOS ONE, elderly adults even expressed a lower willingness to wear a mask outside the home than younger respondents.

In the first in-depth study published concerning elderly people's attitudes and compliance with COVID-19 preventative measures, François Daoust, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh, examined survey results from 72,417 people of all ages across 27 countries. The data were collected by a partnership between the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) at Imperial College London and the polling firm YouGov.

Samples were nationally representative of a country based on age, sex, and region.

Survey contents included questions about people's willingness to self-isolate, as well as their compliance with specific preventive measures, such as mask use or hand washing. Respondents were asked about their prospective willingness to isolate if instructed by a doctor, as well as about their attitudes on various public health advisories such as mask usage.

Measures assessed include:
  • Washing hands with soap and water
  • Using hand sanitiser
  • Covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoiding contact with people who have symptoms or may have been exposed to the coronavirus
  • Avoiding going out in general
  • Avoiding taking public transport
  • Avoiding having guests to your home
  • Avoiding small social gatherings (not more than 2 people)
  • Avoiding medium-sized social gatherings (between 3 and 10 people)
  • Avoiding large-sized social gatherings (more than 10 people)
  • Avoiding crowded areas
  • Avoiding going to shops
  • Eating separately at home, when normally you would eat a meal with others
  • Cleaning frequently touched surfaces in the home (e. g. doorknobs, toilets, taps)
  • Avoiding touching objects in public (e.g. elevator buttons or doors)
The baseline level of compliance with preventive measures was high across ages, results indicated, but there was no substantial effect of age. 

“This research provides the first thorough description of the most vulnerable population’s attitudes and compliance in a comparative perspective, suggesting that governments’ strategies toward elderly people are far from successful, and shows that methodologically, we should be more cautious in treating age as having a linear effect on COVID-19 related outcomes,” Daoust warned.
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