StatsCan Report: Majority of COVID deaths were seniors who had severe health problems

Photo by Dominik Lange on Unsplash

By: Broderick Visser
Written: 2021-07-14

According to Stats Canada, a “disproportionate share” of COVID deaths were seniors 65 years and older and a majority of deaths between 2020 and 2021 consisted of elderly individuals above the age of 85 who had a variety of health issues.

“Canada has counted significantly more deaths than expected during the pandemic, and seniors aged 65 and over have accounted for the disproportionate share of these deaths. Between March 2020 and the beginning of February 2021, seniors accounted for 7 in 10 excess deaths, and 94% of the deaths were attributed to COVID-19. The majority of Canadians who died from COVID-19 were residents of long-term care homes.”

Stats Canada report ‘Briefing on the Impact of COVID-19 on Seniors

Excess deaths by age

Excess deaths are defined as the increase in the number of overall deaths in Canada in comparison to date from previous years. These deaths were a result of both COVID and other impacts of lockdowns like;

Since 94 per cent of COVID deaths were seniors and 70 per cent of excess deaths were in those over 65 — this means that 30 per cent of excess deaths were among working-class Canadians 64 and younger. 6% of total deaths were in that age range.

Pre-existing conditions and complications

Those over 85 years old who died had dementia, Alzheimer’s, chronic heart disease and other pre-existing “cardiovascular and respiratory conditions,” according to a new report from the federal government.

The report, entitled ‘Briefing on the Impact of COVID-19 on Seniors,’ was prepared by Statistics Canada researchers. It was also presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources and Skill Development.

Of 15,300 people who died of COVID-19 between March and December 2020, nearly 90 per cent had at least one other health condition, complication or other cause listed on the death certificate.

“Dementia or Alzheimer’s was listed on the death certificate of 36% of COVID-19
death certificates and was particularly common among those age 65 or older,” said the report.

“Other common COVID-19 comorbidities (i.e., the simultaneous presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions in a patient) reported on death certificates included pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory conditions such as hypertensive diseases, ischemic heart disease and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Since 94% of Canadians who died of COVID-19 in 2020 were older than 65, the overall trends for common COVID-19 comorbidities are largely driven
by age.”

Social impacts

In April 2020, nearly 60 per cent of seniors who responded to a crowdsourcing survey reported being very or extremely concerned about their own health — “more than twice the proportion reported in the younger age groups.”

Maintaining social ties was also a concern for just over a third of seniors (aged 75 and older) who reported this as an issue of concern for them.

“Perhaps out of greater concern about their health, seniors generally took more precautions and made more changes to their habits as a result of the pandemic. For example, they were less likely than younger Canadians to report going to a grocery store or a drugstore. They were also more likely to use delivery services to get their food or medication.”

Stats Canada report ‘Briefing on the Impact of COVID-19 on Seniors.’

Stats Can also report that seniors continued to maintain these precautions even after public-health restrictions were lifted months after lockdown during the first wave of the pandemic. By June 2020, elderly Canadians were more likely to wear masks in public spaces, avoid crowds, larger gatherings and keep their distance from other people.

Last fall, more than four-fifths of seniors 65 and older said they were either somewhat or very willing to get the COVID vaccine and 75 per cent of those aged 12 to 64 responded similarly. This changed to 88 per cent for seniors and 82 per cent for the 12 to 64 age group in early 2021.

Younger Canadians were very unlikely to use contact tracing apps — while seniors were more willing, “despite their limited access to digital technologies,” said the report.

“Among younger Canadians, only 16% said they would be “very likely” to use a contact-tracing application, compared to 33% of all seniors.”

Stats Canada report ‘Briefing on the Impact of COVID-19 on Seniors.’

Mental health

Seniors mental health remained generally better than that of Canadians aged under 65. Not by much — with 31 per cent of seniors 65 and older reporting their mental health being much or somewhat worse than before the pandemic — compared to 42 per cent of Canadians under 65.

“The prevalence of positive screens for major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and probable post-traumatic stress disorder was three times lower among seniors than among young adults,” reads the report.

It also states that seniors were more likely to report ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ mental health in the winter of 2021.

This doesn’t tell the full picture of seniors’ mental health issues reported throughout the pandemic.

“The percentage of seniors aged 65 and older reporting that their mental-health status was somewhat worse or much worse than before the pandemic has been increasing steadily over the course of the pandemic. This trend was also observed among younger Canadians, although they remained more likely than seniors to report that their mental health was worse than before the start of the pandemic.”

Stats Canada report ‘Briefing on the Impact of COVID-19 on Seniors.’

Economic Impacts

As most seniors in Canada are retired, their employment and financial situations didn’t change as dramatically as younger Canadians during the pandemic.

“For example, in May 2020, older Canadians were much less likely than younger Canadians to report that COVID-19 would have an impact on their job or finances. Among Canadians aged 35 to 44, 32% said the pandemic would have a moderate or major impact on their ability to meet their financial obligations, compared with 14% of Canadians aged 65 and older,” reads the report.

Most recently reported in May 2021, seniors aged 65 and older were least likely to live in households that reported it was ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to meet basic household financial commitments compared to younger individuals.

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