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The impact of COVID-19 on Canadian seniors has been devastating. Unfortunately, new research suggests that official counts likely underestimate COVID-19 deaths among the senior population at large.

It is well known that the pandemic took a heavy toll on seniors living in long-term care and retirement homes, however, recalibrated estimates suggest that 62 percent of excess deaths across Canada (about 6,000) were not reported as COVID-19 related for the population aged 45-84


. In Quebec, 70 percent of excess deaths (ages 45-84) were reported as COVID-19; compared to only 26 percent for the rest of Canada. Conversely, reported COVID-19 fatalities are higher than excess death estimates for the population 85 and older in most regions, with the exceptions of British Columbia (91 percent) and Atlantic Canada (20 percent).

While there is significant uncertainty about the true effects of COVID-19 on Canada’s senior population, these recalibrated estimates suggest that seniors living in the community were more severely impacted than official counts show. In addition, they provide a significantly different, more regionally equitable picture of the pandemic: provinces that seemed relatively unscathed likely under counted more than those that appeared to be the worst hit.

There are well-known challenges to improving seniors’ healthcare that existed before the pandemic and must be addressed, as Canada’s population continues to age. Policymakers, health sector stakeholders, managers, politicians, and care providers must mount a coordinated sustained effort to strategically modernize and improve the quality of and access to seniors’ care, particularly in low-income and racialized communities.

Failure to do so will leave us ill-prepared for the future, regardless of how this pandemic continues to unfold.

To learn more about our concerns regarding Canadian seniors’ care, read “Learning from Deadly Lessons: Seniors' Care and COVID-19”, by Rosalie Wyonch.

  • 1Among working age people (45-64) only 14% of excess mortality was attributed to COVID-19; 43 percent among people 65-84. Quebec had a higher proportion of excess mortality attributed to COVID-19 than other provinces across age groups.