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Older people don't take more precautions against coronavirus

Some older people, who are at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 infections than their younger counterparts, are not taking extra precautions against the virus.
Some older people, who are at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 infections than their younger counterparts, are not taking extra precautions against the virus.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

Older people, who are far more likely to experience severe illness or die from the new coronavirus than younger people, aren't taking more preventive measures to avoid infection, a new international study finds.

Using survey data from 27 countries, researchers found that age has no impact on how likely people are to follow recommendations such as avoiding crowds, wearing face masks and shunning shops and other trips away from home. People in their 70s and 80s are no more likely to self-isolate than those in their 50s and 60s. 

"This is very surprising because it is exactly that subpopulation (the 60+ year-olds) that should be, according to public health agencies around the world, more careful when it comes to self-isolation," study author Jean-François Daoust, a political scientist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, wrote in an email to Live Science. 

Overall, willingness to self-isolate and take other preventative measures was high across all age groups, so it's not clear how much the lack of additional caution by the oldest individuals might affect the spread of SARS-CoV-2. It depends on other factors, Daoust said: For example, if an older individual who sees very few people normally refuses to self-isolate completely, their chances of spreading the disease might not change much. If that person is a social butterfly, their reluctance could have a larger impact.

Related: Latest updates on COVID-19

Age and COVID-19

I would make the following parallel: How is it that you voted in most of the elections in your life, if not always, because you see it as a duty, part of a collective action, but that you do not see your current behavior as an important duty to protect yourself and others?

Jean-François Daoust

Age has emerged as a clear risk factor for sickness and death from SARS-CoV-2 infection. A paper published June 16 in the journal Nature Medicine estimates that while 21% of infected 10- to 19-year-olds show symptoms, about 69% of infected individuals over 70 do. In New York City's outbreak, those over 75 have made up almost half of all COVID-19 deaths as of May 12, while those ages 65 to 74 made up another quarter of deaths. Only about 4% of New York's fatalities in mid-May were individuals18 to 44 years old. 

Given this risk, you might expect older people would be the most cautious about avoiding infection. And in a survey done in March, the Pew Research Center did find that older Americans were more likely to see the disease as risky to their personal health compared with how younger Americans viewed their own risk. But many coronavirus opinion surveys have questioned a relatively small number of older adults, and most use linear models to explore the effect of age. What this means is that the statistics provide an average across the entire age span, even if subgroups look very different from one another.

For example, Daoust said, imagine that every additional year of age was linked with a 5-point increase in coronavirus concern on a hypothetical scale for 18- to 35-year-olds, with a 10-point increase among 35- to 60-year-olds and with a 1-point increase for those over 60. Averaging 5, 10 and 1 across the three groups would yield 5.3, suggesting that each year of life between 18 to 60+ would raise coronavirus concerns by 5 points. 

Related: Why COVID-19 kills some people and spares others

That average is accurate for the 18- to 35-year-olds, but way off for the 35- to 60-year-olds and especially for those over 60. A statistical method that doesn't require a linear result could yield a more accurate picture, showing the differences in how age impacts concern in different phases of life, Daoust said.

Daoust's dataset came from polling conducted by The Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) at Imperial College London and the polling company YouGov in 27 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom (UK), United States (USA) and Vietnam. The surveys, conducted repeatedly since April, are nationally representative for each country, and 72,417 people have responded. 

Attitudes by age

The surveys asked people about their willingness to self-isolate should they experience possible COVID-19 symptoms, as well as their willingness to self-isolate if advised to do so by a health authority. They also answered questions about a suite of preventive behaviors, including hand-washing, mask-wearing, and the avoidance of gatherings, crowds, shops and public transportation. Willingness was ranked on a scale of 0 to 1, with 0 being "not at all" and 1 being "always." 

The age breakdown showed that willingness to self-isolate if experiencing symptoms rose from 0.7 at age 20 to about 0.85 at age 70, then flattened and declined to 0.8 by age 90 — back to the same level seen in 50-year-olds, who are at much less risk than someone in their 80s. In a more stable but similar pattern, willingness to isolate if told to by a medical or health authority crept up slightly from just over 0.8 at age 20 to just under 0.9 at age 60 and then stalled out. 

Age and preventive measures against COVID-19.

(Image credit: J. -F. Daoust/PLOS ONE, CC BY 4.0)

Daoust combined the other 16 preventive measures into a single scale and found that when it comes to following social-distancing and hygiene recommendations, age is not a factor at all. Though youth have a reputation for incautious behavior, Daoust said, "everyone seems to respect the preventive measures to the same degree." (Overall, the respect was relatively high, with people reporting engaging in 12 out of 16 behaviors, on average.) 

There were not enough individual respondents by country for Daoust to compare each nation, though he did confirm that the lack of differences by age wasn't driven by reluctant elders in just a few countries — the phenomenon appears similar in all countries surveyed.

There could be many reasons that older people aren't more likely than younger to take precautions, Daoust said. They may be less comfortable with technology that would allow them to socialize without meeting face-to-face, he said. Or perhaps the oldest age groups view risk differently. After the paper was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on July 2, Daoust received an email from a reader who was over 70. The person said that at that age, death feels inevitable. It's not that older people want to die, the reader wrote, but the danger of the virus seems less relevant. 

For those who hope to convince an older loved one to take precautions, Daoust said his political participation work might provide some advice. Older people are more likely than younger people to view voting as a duty, he said. It's possible that appealing to that same sense of duty might help persuade older people to be careful to avoid coronavirus, he said. 

"I would make the following parallel: How is it that you voted in most of the elections in your life, if not always, because you see it as a duty, part of a collective action, but that you do not see your current behavior as an important duty to protect yourself and others?" Daoust said. 

Originally published on Live Science.

  • Olmtman
    The only preventive measures that matter to us elderly are vaccines and cures, neither of which we have now, so we are just enjoying what little time we have left.
    Reply
  • SeattleTabby
    I have not seen any research showing that age alone is a predictor of susceptibility or severity of Covid19. Many older people have underlying conditions, which do have an impact. Some have compromised immune systems (immunosenescence) but not all do. And many of the severest cases come from nursing homes; the issue isn't age but the tight living conditions, poor hygiene practices, and lack of adequate staff and medical support.

    There's no reason for "older adults" to take precautions unless they have underlying conditions or weakened immune systems due to lifestyle factors. It's cruel to suggest that these older adults avoid physical activity that will actually strengthen their immune systems, not to mention their quality of life.

    I wrote an article about this: http://mycopy.info/agemed
    Reply
  • Quantum
    Older folks are close to the Greatest Generation. We went through the depression and WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. This virus is a mosquito bite compared to these really big issues. People die of the normal flu every year. What is not honestly reported is the denominator: We get measured cases, but we do not have the total number of cases. In reality the virus got here early and has spread all around the country. The horse left the barn before the door was closed. Most important, look how docile and spineless are out young people who cower in the corner, afraid of the coronavirus. How easy have they given up their hard earned liberties and civil rights. These docile people become the victims of demagogues and authoritarians.
    Reply
  • Wanda
    At 73, I take this virus very seriously. (And BTW in my 55+ senior complex, everyone is masked up or face shielded and quite respectful of the social distancing mandate.) I personally celebrate these precautions, not because my life has been so great that I want to live forever, but because I have offspring who need a fair shake at life in a reasonably safe and disease-free environment. This monstrous disease must be eradicated and I believe we have an appropriate behavioral response at the ready, which would grind this plague to a halt.

    Granted, I have seen some senior individuals (usually of an advanced age and/or non-English-speaking ethnicity) who don't "get" the need to mask up (and when they are wheelchair-bound, they have no choice about how close they get to others). But where I live, in a high-risk state and county, most seniors are wearing masks and giving one another wide berth to ensure social distancing (the younger people don't). I haven't hugged or kissed my own son in months, because we live in separate households. I don't know about my neighbors, but I wash my hands after every time I open a door or use a tissue for my nose. It would be helpful for me to know where these irresponsible and clueless seniors live so that I don't accidentally go there.
    Reply
  • Wanda
    admin said:
    The age groups most likely to face severe illness and death from COVID-19 aren't more willing to take preventive measures against coronavirus, an international study finds.

    Older people don't take more precautions against coronavirus : Read more

    International, eh? Well, they sure didn't survey me or the other seniors in my 55+ community in Los Angeles, California. We are meticulous about following all the health guidelines. It's the kids we have to encounter on the street or in the grocery store who are flouting the laws and violating the medical restrictions. Today I had occasion to drive through Burbank and (while wearing my mask in the car) I saw a 40-something couple walking the sidewalk with no masks in place or readily available. Generalized aspersions against "older people" (international, none-the-less) aren't going to make you very popular with us Baby Boomers, who still are legion.
    Reply
  • Quantum
    Wanda is an excellent example of the fear and anxiety that has been engendered by an out of controlled, biased, and lying press. In California it is likely that we have all been exposed to the virus. There were 5000 people per day coming to California from China from October 2019 to Mid-March 2020 when the quarantine was imposed by authoritarian fiat. The virus has already spread throughout the state. Gov Newsom closed the door of the barn after the horse had already escaped. As they test more people, they find more and more people with the antibody. The lying press calls that "new infection." No small wonder -- the virus has been in California for more than 6 months already. Yet the Corona virus has had an impact similar to the yearly flu. Each year thousands of people die from the normal ordinary flu. Actually, the flu does not kill you, it is the underlying fragile medical condition that kills you. But the death is blamed on the flu. Thus, the Corona virus is here and all present. Your wearing your little mask is so useless as to be unfortunate and an indicator of your fear, panic and anxiety. This state of mind makes you vulnerable to demagogues, such as those who are benefiting from this shutdown. If we wanted to get political, there is only one political party that is benefiting from this terrible forced economic recession. However, there are still people in the older generation who are part of the Great Generation, and these people see a scam, so they are paying no attention to the scare and fear factors. Americans fought a Revolutionary War in order to create Civil Liberties and Freedom. Many of us are not about to give up our Civil Liberties based on a scam and politically motivated fear factor.
    Reply
  • Nytowl223
    Quantum said:
    Older folks are close to the Greatest Generation. We went through the depression and WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. This virus is a mosquito bite compared to these really big issues. People die of the normal flu every year. What is not honestly reported is the denominator: We get measured cases, but we do not have the total number of cases. In reality the virus got here early and has spread all around the country. The horse left the barn before the door was closed. Most important, look how docile and spineless are out young people who cower in the corner, afraid of the coronavirus. How easy have they given up their hard earned liberties and civil rights. These docile people become the victims of demagogues and authoritarians.
    First I must point out that people don't die of the flu ("regular" or otherwise) in numbers over 160K in 4 months on a regular basis, especially in the summer heat! And you have the guts to complain about younger people taking precautions to not kill your generation?

    I also noted that you use the phrase "regular flu," above. Covid-19 is not the flu. It is a virus that isn't even related to any influenza virus. It is a coronavirus, one brand new to our species. That is why it is hitting people so hard, because we have no built-in immunity to it. And your exposure to any war or hardship of the past does not make you any more immune to it than anyone else.

    As for authoritarianism, how, precisely, does someone choosing to wear a mask to help stop the spread of a deadly virus mean they are kowtowing to authoritarianism rather than following science? Such an outrageous statement is beyond even FOX "news" absurdity! Did you get that one from Blaze or Breitbart?
    Reply
  • Nytowl223
    Quantum said:
    Wanda is an excellent example of the fear and anxiety that has been engendered by an out of controlled, biased, and lying press. In California it is likely that we have all been exposed to the virus. There were 5000 people per day coming to California from China from October 2019 to Mid-March 2020 when the quarantine was imposed by authoritarian fiat. The virus has already spread throughout the state. Gov Newsom closed the door of the barn after the horse had already escaped. As they test more people, they find more and more people with the antibody. The lying press calls that "new infection." No small wonder -- the virus has been in California for more than 6 months already. Yet the Corona virus has had an impact similar to the yearly flu. Each year thousands of people die from the normal ordinary flu. Actually, the flu does not kill you, it is the underlying fragile medical condition that kills you. But the death is blamed on the flu. Thus, the Corona virus is here and all present. Your wearing your little mask is so useless as to be unfortunate and an indicator of your fear, panic and anxiety. This state of mind makes you vulnerable to demagogues, such as those who are benefiting from this shutdown. If we wanted to get political, there is only one political party that is benefiting from this terrible forced economic recession. However, there are still people in the older generation who are part of the Great Generation, and these people see a scam, so they are paying no attention to the scare and fear factors. Americans fought a Revolutionary War in order to create Civil Liberties and Freedom. Many of us are not about to give up our Civil Liberties based on a scam and politically motivated fear factor.

    You are unbelievably wrong about this entire thing. No, not everyone has been exposed to Covid-19, anywhere. Otherwise, we would not still be having record hospitalizations and deaths from it every other day, in states from California to Florida, and so many places in between. And your political nonsense is precisely the reason why we can't stop the spread of it!

    This is a disease. One can't fight a disease with far-right talking points. One fights a disease with science and medical facts. Not only that, this is not the yearly flu, or ANY influenza virus. This is a brand new coronavirus, not like any other coronavirus our species has ever dealt with. That means we have zero natural immunity to it. That is science, and facts, not politics.

    Stating that wearing a mask is useless is not only wrong, it's a dangerous lie! Wearing a mask is proven to reduce the level at which the virus is spread to others, and to reduce the level at which you are exposed to the virus. This is fact. This is science. This is not political talking points. Masks work. If masks didn't stop germs, surgeons wouldn't wear them when they operate on people, after all. It is simple, easily understood, science. Just because your cult leader doesn't get it doesn't mean it's not factual.

    Frankly, I think someone should report you for such dangerous lies. And since you're the one regurgitating the same dangerous lies as your cult leader, you seem to be the one buckling under to authoritarianism, rather than those of us that understand science.

    You seem so willing to lay down and die from a disease, because you can't be bothered to wear a simple little mask. Even the young men and women marching for justice nearly every day, peacefullly protesting the social inequities that need changed, are nearly ALL wearing masks to keep not only themselves and their fellow protesters safe, but to keep others safe, too.

    Yet, you can't be bothered to care about anyone or anything that your preferred "news" source has chosen, purely politically, to spin lies and half-truths about, non-stop. Nor have you thought to seek out other sources, as you have been convinced that only one, above all others, should be believed. Well, aside from this site, where, instead of choosing to learn anything, you have instead chosen to spread your cult leader's lies. Talk about being brainwashed!
    Reply
  • Quantum
    Funny thing, your rhetoric is just like CNN, NBC, PBS, etc. You ought to join them because you can really fling that hyperbole, fright and fear. Gosh, you nearly had me shivering in my boots. Your life must be miserable right now. I feel really sorry for you.

    The reporting of deaths from this virus is greatly distorted. The two studies from Stanford and USC show that the virus was here long before the shutdown, and it was spreading throughout the population. Given your great fear, it must be that you are over 65, have a heart condition, a lung condition, or other diminution in your ability to fight any disease. So I feel sorry for you and hope that you recover soon.

    Meanwhile, for the younger and healthier population, the rate of death is quite low. Everyday we face danger. The best example I give is driving to work or even to visit friends. How many of you drive over the speed limit? Those who go to work, how many take risks, such as construction, coal mining, etc. This is not a riskless world, particularly when it comes to earning a living.

    The "deaths" are over-reported by CNN and the like. The "cases" are over-reported in such as way as to make people like you shiver in your boots, and cower in fear. The "cases" are merely an observation similar to what the Stanford and USC studies have shown. The coronavirus has spread throughout the population in many states, such as California, Texas, New York, etc., especially those which had Chinese visitors. A large fraction of the population has contracted that virus and found it of no consequence.

    Given your fear, you must have a bad heart condition or similar. Well, suppose you got the Covid, and you passed away, did you die from Covid or the heart condition? The hospitals are getting large sums of money from the slush fund if they report a Covid death. In reality, normal deaths are being attributed to Covid.

    If we got the deaths properly measured, we then need to determine the actual number of "cases" in society. The Stanford and USC studies suggest that a large fraction of the population has already encountered the virus, and has not been impacted to any significant degree. Thus, the death rate is quite low.

    Unfortunately, CNN, PBS, etc., have a political motivation to instill fear into you. And you have drunk the kool-aid and are shivering in your boots. Too bad. In that condition you become a useful tool of authoritarian control. It is interesting that China has effectively quelled all riots in Hong Kong, and has taken over control of that area. The fear goes along with authoritarian control.

    Frankly, I am not interested in living my life in fear and under the authoritarian control of an over-reaching government. In California, the governor actually shut down the beaches! Give the man an inch and he takes a mile. However, the golf courses are open and freedom loving people are playing golf in droves, without masks, and perfectly happy. Not much danger there. We seem to come back day in and day out. The courses are packed. We feel sorry for the fearful masked people.

    It is true. For older people like you who have a compromised immune system, you have a right to be fearful. Go ahead, wear your mask, and stay indoors -- forever. After all, the virus is not going to disappear any time soon. We can slip food to you under the door. What are you going to do when your savings run out, since you cannot work anymore for fear of the virus? Who will slip your food under the door?
    Reply
  • sarajo
    I think Quantum is quite wrong there.. Over here in the UK on a daily basis I have always witnessed older generations wearing masks in the areas told to by our Prime Minister & his Government & now we ve got to wear them if any necessary trips are made to another household & also outside & all of these people have been the older genenration

    Every day on our streets its quite the opposite its the younger generation who arent wearing their masks its those people who have caused the coronavirus to spread & giving our PM no option but to put some parts of our country in lockdown again
    Reply