Seniors, safety, and the pandemic

Shanthi Johnson, dean of the School of Public Health and an expert in seniors’ health, answers important winter wellness questions for seniors and their families.

Winter exacerbates challenges faced by seniors aging at home. Ensuring their household runs smoothly while aging in place is complicated and seniors may require help with everyday tasks including shovelling snow, shopping, doing laundry, preparing meals and tending to the general maintenance of their home. While winter presents an annual concern for seniors and their caregivers, the pandemic and social distancing requirements are adding another layer of complexity this year.

The winter’s cold and dark conditions increase the risk of social isolation, often intensifying mental health issues such as depression and loneliness.

Transportation is also a big concern for older adults, particularly in the winter. With winter comes snow and ice that reduce seniors’ mobility and increases the risk of falls and fall-related injuries. 

Shanthi Johnson, dean of the School of Public Health and an expert in seniors’ health, answered questions on how to best support seniors’ wellness while following public health measures recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 


How can family members safely provide support to aging family members during the pandemic?  

Staying connected has never been more important. 

From a physical health perspective, social distancing, quarantine and isolation are critical public health measures. The resulting feeling of isolation, however,  can cause negative health outcomes and mental health impacts. 

The best way to provide support is to keep in touch with loved ones. Telephone calls are great, but maintaining a face-to-face connection with seniors through video chat platforms might be even better. Find a way to teach and encourage older family members to get online. 

Encourage the use of online connections with medical professionals and telemedicine when appropriate. Telemedicine can also be utilized as a powerful preventative care tool. 

Family members, friends or neighbours can bring groceries, medications and meals while maintaining physical distance. For those seniors receiving essential home care, ensure that they wash their hands and wear a mask to protect themselves and others.  

Many seniors don't have family members checking in on them, so small acts of kindness by neighbours can really make a difference. Leave a note outside the door or in the mailbox with your phone number, inviting them to call if they need groceries, prescriptions or just want to talk.  

Top tips: 
  • Assist with daily activities such as dropping off groceries or medications.
  • Stay connected and engage in social interaction through telephone chats, Facetime visits, or sending a card or letter in the mail.
  • Provide technological support with using social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. 
  • Help with snow and ice removal outside of their home on a regular basis. 
  • Volunteer to help with local programs such as delivery of meals.  

What can seniors living on their own do to stay physically and mentally active while socially distancing this winter?

Seniors need to take care of themselves by staying connected and getting adequate sleep, nutrition and exercise.  Schedule calls with friends and relatives and people who give positive energy. It is not easy, but seniors need to maintain an optimistic outlook and do things that give them joy.

Top tips: 
  • Take part in online fitness programs or dance lessons for older adults.
  • Engage in online activities such as virtual cooking lessons, free university courses, choir groups or online museum tours.
  • Organize virtual engagements such as book clubs or art groups.
  • Learn something new such as playing an instrument or trying a different hobby (e.g., woodwork or needlework).
  • The University of Alberta has a wide variety of On Demand virtual programming on areas of interest to seniors and wellbeing. 


How can seniors spending increased time isolating at home make their environments safe? 

The Government of Canada has developed a series of resources for seniors and their caregivers to help make homes safe and accessible. The resources include information on how to lower your chance of getting sick, what to do if you develop symptoms of COVID-19 and taking care of your mental and physical health. 

As fulfilling as aging in place for seniors may be, it definitely isn’t without its challenges, particularly during this pandemic. With many seniors spending nearly all of their time at home, ensuring it is safe and accessible is more important than ever. 

Top tips:
  • Add grab bars to make bathrooms more accessible and safe.
  • Brighten household lighting to improve visibility during the evening and night.
  • Consider a medical alert system for help during emergency situations.
  • Remove household items that may cause trips, slips or falls such as throw rugs or furniture that impede movement.

Finding Balance, an initiative of the Injury Prevention Centre, is a falls prevention program that provides seniors and practitioners with the latest information and resources to help seniors live an active and independent lifestyle.

Visit for more information, and check out the free resources available in the Resource Catalogue

This is Public Health

Get updates on This is Public Health news and events.

Sign up for news and updates

More articles