Canadian Geriatrics Society COVID-19 Recommendations for Older Adults. What Do Older Adults Need To Know?

Manuel Montero-Odasso, MD, PhD AGSF, FGSA, FRCPC1,2,3, S. Denise Goens, PhD, MPH2, Nellie Kamkar, MSc2, Robert Lam, MD4, Kenneth Madden, MD, MSc, FRCPC5, Frank Molnar, MSc, MD, FRCPC6, Mark Speechley, PhD3, Saverio Stranges, MD, PhD, FAHA3

1Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Department of Medicine and Division of Geriatric Medicine, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON
2Gait and Brain Lab, Parkwood Institute, Lawson Health Research Institute, London, ON
3Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON
4Department of Family Medicine, Toronto Western Hospital Family Practice Residency Program, The University of Toronto, Toronto ON
5Division of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
6Division of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON



One of the goals of the Canadian Geriatrics Society (CGS) is to foster the health and well-being of older Canadians and older adults worldwide. Because there is currently no vaccine available to prevent COVID-19 and no specific antiviral medication to treat it, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus altogether.

We have perused information on the outbreaks in China, Italy, and Spain and recommendations from governmental sites including the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Health Ontario, and the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to provide the following guidance to older adults in Canada. We realize that our patients and their caregivers likely have many questions about COVID-19. As our health system faces this new challenge, we know these are difficult times and it might be harder than normal to address all concerns. This article is intended for physicians assisting older patients with a resource to be shared with them. A shorter version with infographic is available in the CGS website (


1. Who is high risk for severe illness from COVID-19?

  1. Adults aged 60 and higher

  2. People suffering from heart disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes

Being older and having existing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and diabetes, usually coexist; therefore, awareness is critical for older adults to take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick with COVID-19.

2. What should older adults do?

a. Take any illness seriously

Covid-19 may start like a common cold or mild flu; however, in older adults it may worsen quickly. Pay attention for potential COVID-19 symptoms including, fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you have mild symptoms or have had contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, call your doctor, health unit or pharmacist. They will tell you if you need to be tested and where to go.

Go to the hospital immediately if you develop any of the symptoms below:

b. Stay Informed

Your local Health Unit has the most up-to-date and accurate information. Many Health Units have social media accounts, which will be the fastest and most reliable information for your specific area, including how to stay safe and what to do if you think you may be infected.

3. What can you do to reduce your risk of becoming infected?

  1. Take everyday precautions to maintain a physical distance between yourself and others, at least 2 meters (6 feet) if possible. See our 10 Recommendations.

  2. Avoid crowds as much as possible.

  3. When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick and limit close contact with others, wash your hands thoroughly and often.

  4. Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Avoid touching your face, especially the “T Zone” formed by your eyes, nose, and mouth.

  5. Avoid any non-essential travel.

  6. Stock up on supplies that you know you will need in case you need to stay home for at least 2 weeks.

  7. During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed, and stay informed.


1. Take everyday preventive actions:

2. Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick. Take extra measures to put distance between yourself and other people to further reduce your risk of being exposed to this new virus.

3. Avoid all non-essential travel (including plane trips and tourism and especially avoid embarking on any cruise ships), and non-essential in-person visits to your healthprovider (e.g., family physician checkups).

4. Have medical supplies handy

5. If a COVID-19 outbreak happens in your community

It could last for a long time. (An outbreak is when a large number of people suddenly get sick). Depending on how severe the outbreak is, public health officials may recommend community actions to reduce people’s risk of being exposed to COVID-19. These actions can slow the spread and reduce the impact of the disease.

6. Have a plan in place in case you get sick

Watch for symptoms and emergency warning signs

7. If you get sick

If you get sick, do the following:

8. Things you can do to support yourself and to minimize stress during the COVID 19 outbreak. Stress symptoms can include

Older adults with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms.

9. What others can do to support older adults

Family and caregiver support. Below are some guidelines for those supporting older adults:

10. Where can I find out more information on COVID-19?

CGS is following Health Canada’s recommendations for COVID-19 and monitoring their ongoing information, as updates become available. To learn more, please view the following resources:

Disclosure Statement: Drs. Montero-Odasso and Molnar are co-chairs of the Canadian Geriatrics Society COVID-10 working group. ( Return to Text )

Canadian Geriatrics Journal, Vol. 23, No. 1, March 2020