Seniors well-being in Canada: Building on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

From: National Seniors Council

Publication: October 7, 2020

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National Seniors Council

The National Seniors Council would like to thank those who have shared their thoughts and inspired this document. A sub-committee of the National Seniors Council led the drafting of this document. Members included: Nora Spinks (sub-committee chairperson), Joan Marie Aylward, Martine Lagacé, Kevin McCormick, and Omar A. Saad. Officials from Employment and Social Development Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada provided input and commented on initial drafts.

Disclaimer: The authors made every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information provided. Links integrated in the text were accurate at the time of publication.

Executive summary

The Council submitted this report to the Minister of Seniors and the Minister of Health to inform their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report contains 22 actions in support of seniors’ health and well-being. The Council based these actions on a review of over 40 national and international reports. Its review focused on practical, high-impact actions based on evidence, where the federal government can play a leadership role. The report represents a synthesis of critical themes, issues and advice.

The actions reflect the Council’s commitment to:

The Council based these actions on a holistic understanding and commitment to healthy aging.

Within the full continuum of support and care, the Council paid special attention to seniors in long-term care and congregate living homes. What follows is a 5 point plan that provides recommended actions based on 5 key themes:


Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many reports with advice on how to safeguard the health and well-being of seniors have been released by:

These reports pointed out several weaknesses in our health and care systems magnified by the pandemic. The sheer volume of information makes it difficult to isolate the most vital actions.

To advise ministers, the Council has reviewed over 40 national and international reports. They focused on practical, factual, high-impact actions where the federal government can play a leadership role in the health and well-being of seniors.

The Council follows the lead of the World Health Organization (WHO). We view healthy aging as a holistic process of “developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age” (WHO, 2015). This includes a person’s ability to:

The Council focused on:

Within the full continuum of support and care, the Council paid special attention to seniors in long-term care and congregate living homes. What follows is a 5 point plan that provides recommended actions based on 5 key themes:

This report presents 22 actions, some of which will have short-, medium-, and long-term impacts. They represent a synthesis of critical themes, issues and individual recommendations raised in the reports reviewed by the Council.

The actions take into consideration core elements such as:


The Council follows the lead of the World Health Organization (WHO). They view healthy aging as a holistic process of “developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age. A sub-committee of the Council selected literature published throughout the course of the pandemic for review based on:

The team scanned websites of key national and international stakeholders and reviewed research in both French and English. They conducted online research using key search terms, including but not limited to:

There was no shortage of reports from which to choose. The Council endeavoured to include notable works and reviewed new reports as they became available. While this work is extensive and cumulative, it is neither exhaustive nor intended to be a formal literature review. The high-level summary nature of the Council’s report kept context and discussion to a minimum. Its added value lies in the fact that it draws from a rich basis of evidence. It distills, integrates and amplifies the work of many other stakeholders.

Please note the Council continued gathering and analysis of new evidence as we confront the realities of the pandemic. Emerging knowledge regarding the practices, policies and programs required to address the pandemic is constantly evolving. That provides this report, like all other studies on COVID-19, with a provisional character. The Council recommends that it continue to monitor and synthesize research across Canada and around the world to inform ministers and senior officials on leading and emerging thinking during the pandemic and beyond.

Actions for maximum impact

The pandemic had a devastating effect on many seniors. It revealed the importance of responses and plans based on principles centred on the well-being of seniors.

The Council categorized the actions below by:

1. Principles

The Council believes Canada has a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure seniors can optimize their well-being throughout the life course, even during a pandemic. We believe we can achieve this by adopting a human rights framework that enshrines the rights of older persons to a high quality of life. This includes access to appropriate services and supports within the continuum of care regardless of their:

Action 1 (short-term)

Ensure seniors are able to function optimally (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially) despite the disruption to activities of daily living (ADL) and the threats posed by COVID-19 by:

Action 2 (short-term)

Ensure seniors have access to complete and safe care with the full continuum of social and health supports. This includes care and support provided by both unpaid caregivers (for example, family, friends, neighbours, and volunteers) and care workers by:

Action 3 (mid-term)

Address the unequal way in which COVID-19 has affected older women and other groups by:

2. People

COVID-19 has had an impact on people in Canada and around the world. This includes a disproportionate effect on seniors and the many people who love, care for, and support them personally and professionally. The Council believes it is crucial that Canada considers the wide-range of perspectives of seniors and the people involved or with an interest in seniors’ well-being. This includes current seniors, soon-to-be seniors and the seniors of tomorrow.Footnote 2

Action 4 (short-term)

Ensure seniors have high quality experiences living in long-term care facilities and congregate living homes by:

Action 5 (short-term)

Ensure staff have high quality experiences working in long-term care facilities and congregate living housing by:

Action 6 (short-term)

Reinforce the importance of preventive and control measures in long-term care facilities and congregate living homes by:

Action 7 (short-term)

Support seniors who are living independently by:

A caregiver, who gives care for no compensation of extrinsic reward, is sometimes referred to as an informal, unpaid, or non-paid caregiver. This is usually family, friend, or neighbour. A caregiver has an existing relationship with the senior, prior to, during the period of care and after the care is no longer required. A caregiver may receive financial support from government or other sources. For example, government benefits, employer support, community crowd funding.

A care provider provides care as a volunteer, paraprofessional or professional. They can be regulated or unregulated and may be paid or unpaid. They establish and maintain the relationship with the care recipient for the duration of the care period. Care providers are affiliated with an agency, organization. For examples seniors’ services organization, employment agency, home help service.

A care provider has the ability to stop providing care at any time. They can quit or withdraw from the relationship, whereas a caregiver cannot choose to stop being a daughter or son, spouse or partner, etc.

Action 8 (mid-term)

Strengthen the knowledge and capacity of non-paid caregivers by:

Action 9 (mid-term)

Combat social isolation and increase social engagement by:

Action 10 (long-term)

Reduce admissions in long-term care facilities and congregate living homes by:

Action 11 (long-term)

Recognize the work of non-paid caregivers by:

3. Places

Places where seniors live, work and engage in recreation including (but not limited to):

Being “safe at home” helps secure the physical health and well-being of seniors. It also poses a high risk for social isolation and loss of human interaction in the context of the pandemic. The Council believes that Canada needs to design communities that respect and recognize the contribution of seniors to the health of our neighbourhoods.

Action 12 (short-term)

Control the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities by:

Action 13 (short-term)

Respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic by:

Action 14 (mid-term)

Prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community, including among seniors living in multi-generational homes by:

Action 15 (mid-term)

Address stress and mental health issues related to the pandemic by:

Action 16 (long-term)

Monitor safety protocols in all care facilities by:

4. Policies and practices

Policies, practices, and programs constitute a complex convergence of policy frameworks that impacts seniors’ well-being and quality of life, including but not limited to:

The Council believes that decisions informed by evidence result in the most positive outcomes. This includes formal observed (qualitative and quantitative) research and hearing stories from people with lived experiences.

Action 17 (short-term)

Ensure seniors that have or have been exposed to COVID-19 receive organized, safe and efficient treatment across the continuum of care by:

Action 18 (long-term)

Ensure consistent care and standards across Canada by:

Action 19 (long-term)

Provide everyone with access to virtual care by:

5. Planning and preparation

Pandemic planning and preparing for the future must be inclusive and involve older adults in their development. The Council believes that Canada must invest in research and data collection on leading and emerging practices. This includes mobilizing, activating and ensuring the knowledge is shared and applied.

Action 20 (short-term)

Aid planning and preparing across jurisdictions by:

Action 21 (short-term)

Increase our understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on seniors in long-term care and congregate living homes by:

Action 22 (mid-term)

Learn from the resiliency of many seniors during the pandemic by:


The Council believes that enacting this 5 point action plan will have maximum impact for seniors in Canada in the months and years to come. In this report, they presented many actions to consider. In summary, this includes the following:

The Council will continue to inform ministers and senior officials on leading and emerging thinking, practices, policies, and programs.

Appendix: References and resources

Please note: this list of references and resources does not include every document or source reviewed by the Council for this report.

  1. Canadian Nurses Association. (2020). 2020 Vision: Improving Long-term Care for People in Canada. Retrieved from
  2. Office of the Seniors Advocate. (2020). A Billion Reasons to Care: A funding review of contracted long-term care in B.C. Retrieved from
  3. Age and Aging Journal. (2020). Ageism and COVID-19: what does our society’s response say about us? Retrieved from
  4. Ontario Public Health. (2020). At a Glance: Prevention and Management of COVID-19 in Long-Term Care and Retirement Homes. Retrieved from
  5. Carers Canada. (2015). Beyond Recognition – Caregiving & Human Rights in Canada: A Policy Brief. Retrieved from
  6. Government of British Columbia. (2009). British Columbia Residents' Bill of Rights. Retrieved from
  7. Canadian Armed Forces. (2020). CAF Observations in Long Term Care Facilities in Ontario. Retrieved from
  8. Government of Canada. (2020 or 1977). Canadian Human Rights Act. Retrieved from
  9. Government of Canada. (1982). Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Retrieved from
  10. Law Reform Commission of Saskatchewan. (2013). Civil Rights in Saskatchewan Long-term Care Facilities. Retrieved from
  11. World Health Organization. (2020). Community-based health care, including outreach and campaigns, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from
  12. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. (2020). Coronavirus Pandemic in the EU – Fundamental Rights Implications: With a Focus on Older People. Retrieved from
  13. United Nations. (2020). COVID-19 and Human Rights: We are all in this together. Retrieved from
  14. AGE Platform Europe. (2020). COVID-19 and Human Rights Concerns for Older Persons. Retrieved from
  15. Canadian Medical Association Journal. (2020). COVID-19 and long-term care facilities: Does ownership matter? Retrieved from
  16. World Health Organization. (2020). COVID-19 and violence against older people. Retrieved from
  17. Canadian Journal on Aging. (2020). COVID-19: Pandemic Risk, Resilience and Possibilities for Aging Research. Retrieved from
  18. Community Legal Education Ontario. (2015). Every Resident – Bill of Rights for people who live in Ontario long term care homes. Retrieved from
  19. Canadian Armed Forces. (2020). CAF: Report observation in long term care facilities in Quebec. Retrieved from
  20. Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. (2020). The Federal Response to COVID-19: Interim Observations. Retrieved from
  21. Canadian Medical Association Journal. (2020). For-profit long-term care homes and the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks and resident deaths. Retrieved from
  22. Health and Human Rights Journal. (2020). Human Rights and the Confinement of People Living with Dementia in Care Homes. Retrieved from
  23. Canadian Journal on Aging. (2020). Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Approaches Needed to Determine Impact of COVID-19 on Older Adults and Aging: CAG/ACG and CJA/RCV Joint Statement. Retrieved from
  24. Canadian Health Advocates Inc. (2020). Canadian Patient Rights by province. Retrieved from
  25. Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2020). List of Provincial & Territorial Human Rights Agencies/Laws. Retrieved from
  26. Ontario Health Coalition. (2020). Long-Term Care Staffing Survey Report. Retrieved from
  27. International Long term Care Policy Network (National Institute on Aging). (2020). Mortality associated with COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes: early international evidence. Retrieved from
  28. United Nations. (2020). Our response to COVID-19 must respect the rights and dignity of older people. Retrieved from
  29. Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2020). Pandemic Experience in the Long-Term Care Sector: How does Canada Compare with Other Countries? Retrieved from
  30. United Nations Members Sates. (2020). Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on older persons. Retrieved from
  31. World Health Organization. (2020). Preventing and Managing COVID-19 Across long term care services. Retrieved from
  32. International Longevity Centre Canada. (2020). Protecting Human Rights During and After COVID-19: Challenges to the Human Rights of Older People in Canada. Retrieved from
  33. Government of Yukon. (2020). Putting People First: The final report of the comprehensive review of Yukon's health and social programs and services. Retrieved from
  34. Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement and Canadian Patient Safety Institute. (2020). Reimagining Care for Older Adults: Next Steps in COVID-19 Response in Long-Term Care and Retirement Homes – What We Heard. Retrieved from
  35. Royal Society of Canada. (2020). Restoring Trust: COVID-19 and the Future of Long-Term Care. Retrieved from
  36. Public Health Physicians of Canada, National Speciality Society for Public Health, Preventative Medicine Specialists and Public Health Physicians. (2020). Snapshot of Long-Term Care Facility Visitation Policies Across Canadian Province[s] and Territories. Retrieved from
  37. International Long Term Care Policy Network (National Institute on Aging). (2020). Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on residents of Canada’s long-term care homes – ongoing challenges and policy responses. Retrieved from
  38. United Nations. (1991). United Nations Principles for Older Persons. Retrieved from
  39. Canadian Medical Association, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. (2020). Virtual Care: Recommendations for Scaling Up Virtual Medical Services – Report of the Virtual Care Task Force. Retrieved from

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