MiroslavaChrienova /

EDINBURGH, UK — Data shows that the elderly face a higher risk of becoming severely ill from the coronavirus. Yet despite this, older people are not more likely to take extra precautions to protect themselves from contracting the virus. That’s the surprising conclusion of a massive new survey conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

The survey includes a total of 72,417 participants from 27 countries across the globe. The research aims to understand how people are responding to the preventative measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Survey questions focus on the measures participants are taking to stay healthy and keep others safe. Participants were asked about their willingness to self-isolate if they start to feel sick, if they are wearing face masks in public, if they are washing their hands more frequently, and other questions related to their attitudes to the virus.

Older, but not always wiser when it comes to coronavirus

The results show that older people (60+) are not more likely to self-isolate than those in their 50s and 60s, even if instructed to do so by a healthcare professional. They are also less likely to wear a mask outside their homes than people in the younger age groups.

“This behaviour will become especially important when social distancing rules will be loosened,” writes Jean-François Daoust of the University of Edinburgh, author of the study. “This is surprising because it is very reasonable to expect that those who are more likely to be hospitalized and/or die from the COVID-19 will be more disciplined and dutiful.”

Of course, older people also face a higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus when around others. Thankfully, the survey finds that many are taking some preventative measures when it comes to groups. These include avoiding gatherings, not using public transportation and not having guests over.

“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,” says Daoust in a media release. “The surprising (and quite shocking) findings entails major implications on how we managed and will manage the COVID-19 crises.” 

The study suggests that governments must do better in educating older populations and encouraging them to comply with preventative measures. Hopefully these extra measures will help keep a very vulnerable population from adding to the growing statistics.

The survey is published in the journal PLOS One.

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