Kingston, ON—There are approximately 1.5 million Canadians living with frailty right now and they are at an increased risk for severe, adverse health outcomes from even minor illnesses and injury. They will be hardest hit by COVID-19.
Dr. John Muscedere, an intensivist and respirologist at Kingston General Hospital and Scientific Director of the Canadian Frailty Network says, “A major consideration as we prepare to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is to be aware of the different regional impacts it might have. Some communities have larger concentrations of seniors, including older people with frailty, and other underlying health conditions. These are the people most at risk so we may need to be aware of these regionalities for planning purposes such that we can direct our health care resources accordingly.”
What is ‘frailty’ and why does it matter?
The Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) defines frailty as a state of increased vulnerability and functional decline. Individuals who are frail are more likely to have many health problems, take multiple medications and be limited in their ability to get around and carry out activities of daily living.
Those living with frailty often have low energy, engage in little physical activity, move more slowly and have difficulties with balance. Frail people who get sick do not recover well from their illness, may never get back to their baseline and may not be able to return home, further exacerbating chronic problems and limitations in our alternative levels of care, such as homecare or long-term care facilities. In the event of a crisis, they may not get the rehabilitation and other supports they require since they may be in limited supply.
Certainly, we have seen health care resources limited in areas of the world that have been severely impacted by COVID-19. “In times of limited resources, we need to guard against using age alone as a deciding factor in the level of health care people receive but consider instead where they are at in their life’s journey. Someone who is older but not frail may do as well in their recovery as someone who is much younger,” notes Muscedere.
So, what can be done?
Public health tells us frequent and thorough handwashing, not touching your face, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, like door knobs and smart phones, and social isolation (avoiding crowded rooms and spaces and keeping physical distance from those we interact with) are good ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“And don’t panic,” says Muscedere. “We are all in this together. It is important to listen to our public health officials and health care providers; there is a very good chance that we can mitigate the spread and minimize its impact.”
The Canadian Frailty Network says NOW is the time to help the older people in our lives get prepared for a possible quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19. Consider the following steps to help your older family, friends and neighbours to be well prepared.
Help older adults in your life prepare for potential illness or quarantine in the following ways:
- Consider creating a neighbourhood or family assistance plan in which you agree to check in on your older family members and run essential errands for each other if someone in your network becomes sick.
- Help older adults to stock up on canned and frozen food items to ensure they have enough food for two weeks in case they are required to remain in their home or are unable to receive the support they need.
- 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 now 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 this could be suspended so fill essential prescriptions as soon as possible.
- Stock up on supplies for pets — a one-month supply if possible.
- Stock up on cleaning supplies — a one-month supply if possible.
- Ensure that older adults have adequate sanitary and hygiene supplies on hand — one-month supply.
As community members, we all have an important duty to safeguard our seniors and make sure they are secure, healthy and living a quality life. Let’s not forget them and all the ways we can keep them healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak.
For more information visit: https://www.cfn-nce.ca/
The Canadian Frailty Network works to improve care for older adults living with frailty and support their families and caregivers. We will do this by increasing recognition and assessment of frailty, increasing evidence for decision making, advancing evidence-based changes to care, educating the next generation of care providers and by engaging with older adults and caregivers.
Dr. John Muscedere is the Scientific Director of the Canadian Frailty Network, an intensivist in the Intensive Care Unit at Kingston Health Sciences Centre — KGH Site, and a Professor of Critical Care Medicine at Queen’s University