Elderly people are most at risk of becoming seriously ill if infected with the coronavirus, with mortality rates spiking after a particular age.
But new research of attitudes towards public health messaging shows Baby Boomers aren’t getting the message about the need to take greater precautions.
Analysis of survey data from 27 countries, including Australia, shows the most vulnerable population to COVID-19 are no more cautious or compliant to social distancing rules than younger people.
Dr Jean-François Daoust from the University of Edinburgh, the author of the study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, described his findings as “surprising and quite troubling”.
“Epidemiologists are crystal clear – age is the most important factor in diminishing one’s chances to survive the COVID-19, especially after 65 years of age,” Dr Daoust wrote.
Governments have paid extra attention to public health messaging targeting Baby Boomers, in a bid to convince them to follow preventive measures.
As a result, Dr Daoust expected that elderly people might be the most “dutiful group” in the community when it comes to isolating when told to do so and complying with infection control measures.
But rather than take the messaging more seriously given the increased risk of adverse symptoms and death, the analysis of data from around the world shows the opposite, he said.
“The findings show that the elderly are not systematically more responsive in terms of prospective self-isolation (if they were told to do so) and willingness to isolate,” he said.
“Moreover, they are not more disciplined in terms of compliance with preventive measures, especially with wearing a face mask when outside their home.
“This is surprising because it is very reasonable to expect that those who are more likely to be hospitalised and/or die from the COVID-19 will be more disciplined and dutiful.”
Dr Daoust’s findings highlight the urgent need for governments to rethink their messaging, particularly as lockdown measures are relaxed.
La Trobe University infectious disease specialist Hassan Vally said the death rate for coronavirus begins to rise for people over 50 years old.
“Those under 50 years who are infected have a death rate of 0.2 to 0.4 per cent, while for those 50 to 59 years, it’s 1.3 per cent,” Associate Professor Vally said.
“For those 60 to 69 years, it’s 3.6 per cent, for 70 to 79, it’s 8 per cent and for those over 80, it is 14.8 per cent.
“People over the age of 80 years and those with chronic diseases are the most vulnerable. For those over 80, approximately 15 per cent of those infected (could) die.”
But the risk of death significantly jumps among people with pre-existing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory conditions.
“The likelihood of having chronic conditions increases markedly as you age,” Associate Professor Vally said.
“Four in five Australians aged 65 years and over have at least one chronic condition.
“But the presence of chronic conditions only partially explains the high death rate in older people. As we age, our immune system weakens. This makes us more vulnerable to infections of all types.
“And any sort of challenge to the body can do more damage.”
The vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in Australia have been in people aged 70 to 89.
Originally published as ‘Troubling’ virus attitudes of Boomers