COVID-19 and Older Adults Living with Frailty

March 12, 2020

Download our Tip Sheet here to help yourself or an older adult prepare for possible quarantine. Click here for additional resources and articles about COVID-19.

As we age, adults experience a decline in the effectiveness of their immune systems, which makes it more difficult for their body to fight off viruses, infection and disease. This is one of the reasons that COVID-19, and many viruses like the flu, can have such a detrimental impact on older adults. Additionally, 74% of older adults, aged 65y+, live with at least one chronic condition1 and 1 in 4 Canadians over the age of 65 are living with frailty2. These underlying health conditions further impede the body’s ability to fight off and recover from illness making viruses such as COVID-19 more dangerous to older Canadians living with frailty.

The greatest risk of infection is for people who are in close contact with those who are infected with COVID-19. This is why it is of particular importance now, as COVID-19 spreads across the globe, that people pay close attention to what is happening in their local communities. If you live in a city where confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported, then you should visit your local public health website for the most up to date information on the state of COVID-19 in your community. This will help you stay informed about your local public health unit’s recommendations, and allow you to make an informed risk assessment for yourself and those around you.

In instances such as this, a viral COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of how interdependent we are as individuals. It is up to everyone to stay informed and work together to mitigate the spread of this virus. We are all relying on each other to take the necessary precautions and to be prepared in the event of an emergency by understanding how coronavirus spreads and how to prevent illness.

To reduce exposure and transmission of a range of illnesses, including the common cold, influenza and COVID-19, people should follow usual health precautions such as:

  • Clean your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Here’s a great video from the World Health Organization to help you with your technique: Hand washing Video
  • Cough and sneeze into the bend of your arm, or a tissue and not into your hand.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes with your hands.
  • Clean objects and surfaces that many people touch, such as doorknobs, taps, phones/cell phones and television remotes with regular household cleaner.
  • Stay home when you are sick and avoid contact with other people until your symptoms are gone.
  • Do not share any personal items that come into contact with saliva such as toothbrushes, eating utensils, drinks, water bottles, and towels or facecloths.

If you suspect that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and you are experiencing symptoms, call your health care provider prior to seeking care to let them know of your symptoms and any recent travel to COVID-19 affected areas. If you do not have a primary health care provider, or are seeking care after hours, call your local health unit for advice on next steps and where to best seek treatment. It is best to call ahead to a walk-in clinic or the emergency room to let them know you will be coming in and that you suspect you’ve been exposed to the COVID-19 virus so that they can be prepared.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, there are things that you can do to prepare in case you or someone in your house becomes ill or in case of a mandatory quarantine. As well, be sure to help older adults in your life in the following ways, to ensure they are prepared for potential illness or quarantine.

  • Stock up on canned and frozen food items to ensure you have enough food for two to three weeks in case you are required to remain in your home.
  • Remind older adults to keep cell phones and tablets charged and make a plan to use FaceTime or video chat to stay in touch, should isolation protocols come into place.
  • Fill prescriptions and stock up on over-the-counter medications. If possible, get enough for a one-month supply.
  • Purchase over-the-counter pain and fever medications to have on hand.
  • Remember that most drug stores will deliver to your home, but fill essential prescriptions as soon as possible.
  • Stock up on supplies for your pets – a one-month supply if possible.
  • Stock up on cleaning supplies – a one-month supply if possible.
  • Ensure you have adequate sanitary and hygiene supplies.

Let your family, friends and neighbours know that you are making plans to prepare for a possible COVID-19 quarantine. Share your plan with them, and plan to stay in touch with loved ones electronically or by phone.

Now is the time to check in on older, possibly vulnerable or socially isolated neighbours. Consider creating a neighborhood buddy system in which you agree to check in on each other and run essential errands for each other if you become sick.

Visit and/or your local public health website for the most up to date information on the current COVID-19 outbreak in your area. Additionally, we have included additional links below that may be helpful:


1 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Seniors and the Health Care System. Analysis. January 2011
2 Hoover 2011, Stats Can 2019