Frailty and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on community-living middle-aged and older adults: an analysis of data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA)

Age Ageing. 2022 Dec 5;51(12):afac289. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afac289.


Background: frailty imparts a higher risk for hospitalisation, mortality and morbidity due to COVID-19 infection, but the broader impacts of the pandemic and associated public health measures on community-living people with frailty are less known.

Methods: we used cross-sectional data from 23,974 Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging participants who completed a COVID-19 interview (Sept-Dec 2020). Participants were included regardless of whether they had COVID-19 or not. They were asked about health, resource, relationship and health care access impacts experienced during the pandemic. Unadjusted and adjusted prevalence of impacts was estimated by frailty index quartile. We further examined if the relationship with frailty was modified by sex, age or household income.

Results: community-living adults (50-90 years) with greater pre-pandemic frailty reported more negative impacts during the first year of the pandemic. The frailty gradient was not explained by socio-demographic or health behaviour factors. The largest absolute difference in adjusted prevalence between the most and least frail quartiles was 15.1% (challenges accessing healthcare), 13.3% (being ill) and 7.4% (increased verbal/physical conflict). The association between frailty and healthcare access differed by age where the youngest age group tended to experience the most challenges, especially for those categorised as most frail.

Conclusion: although frailty has been endorsed as a tool to inform estimates of COVID-19 risk, our data suggest it may have a broader role in primary care and public health by identifying people who may benefit from interventions to reduce health and social impacts of COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Keywords: COVID-19; Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA); frailty; health care utilisation; older people; pandemic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Frail Elderly
  • Frailty* / diagnosis
  • Frailty* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Independent Living
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics