Understanding deconditioning

The exceptional measures put in place to combat the pandemic are essential to keep the population safe especially those aged 70 and over, who are at greater risk of seeing their condition worsen if they contract COVID-19. However, these measures change lifestyles and can have negative effects on the level of physical activity, nutrition and mental health of seniors, which can lead to deconditioning.

Deconditioning refers to all the physical, mental and social consequences associated with inactivity, being sedentary for a period of time or intellectual and social understimulation.

Although its effects are generally reversible, it has a negative impact on autonomy. Seniors are particularly at risk of deconditioning during the pandemic.

Several complications can also occur with deconditioning. They include:

  • loss of muscle mass and strength or balance and walking problems that increase the risk of falls and fractures;
  • memory loss;
  • confusion;
  • a decrease in cardiorespiratory capacity accompanied by a risk of heart failure and infection;
  • difficulty maintaining the ability to maintain their home, climb stairs, do their usual physical or sports activities, etc.

Each of these complications can lead to hospitalization. Therefore, it is important to act quickly and not hesitate to call on a health care professional if necessary.

Preventing deconditioning

Although this is still a pandemic and caution should be exercised, seniors are advised to participate in activities that prevent deconditioning. Several simple actions can promote good physical and mental health during this time and prevent deconditioning. The important thing is to maintain a regular routine and a healthy lifestyle. It is also important to stay active in complete safety by getting vaccinated properly and by following the basic health instructions.

These actions will help you maintain your physical autonomy, cognitive abilities and keep your morale high. There are three priority areas for action:

Autonomy and mobility

Am I at risk of losing my autonomy and mobility?

Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Am I less physically active than usual?
  • Am I less autonomous in some of my activities?
  • Do I have more difficulty getting around, changing position than before (for example, difficulty walking, using stairs, getting out of bed or a chair) ?
  • Do I sometimes lose my balance?
  • Have I had a fall in the last few months?

What should I do if I answer yes to one or more of these questions?

Here are some ideas

  • Stand up every hour.
  • Move your arms and legs by yourself, standing, sitting or lying down.
  • Take every opportunity to move (for example, make your bed, prepare meals, fold clothes, do household chores).
  • Walk indoors or, if possible, outdoors regularly.
  • Do a physical exercise program at your own pace and according to your abilities.

Some practical links

Here are some websites that provide information on autonomy, mobility and physical activity during the pandemic:

If you have significant difficulties with mobility or need advice to get started, contact the Info-Santé 811 service.

Nutrition and hydration

Am I at risk of undernutrition and dehydration?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I been eating less for more than a week?
  • Have I lost weight unintentionally in the last 6 months?
  • Have my appetite or eating habits changed in the last month?
  • Have I lost the desire to make meals?
  • Do I have difficulty going grocery shopping?
  • Am I more tired?
  • Is my urine dark and smelly (concentrated)?

What should I do if I answer yes to one or more of these questions?

If you answer yes specifically to the first two questions, you are at risk of undernutrition, that is, you are at risk of losing muscle mass, strength and autonomy. You must act quickly.

Here are some ideas

  • Eat your favourite foods.
  • Cook meals that are easy to prepare
  • Eat all three meals at regular times
  • Drink regularly without waiting until you feel thirsty.
  • Choose the main course over soup and dessert.
  • Eat protein with every meal and snack: fish, eggs, poultry, meat, milk, legumes, tofu, yogurt, cheese, nuts.
  • Use "Meals on Wheels", a catering service or ask relatives to buy you ready-made meals.
  • Do your grocery shopping online and use the delivery service.
  • Have meals delivered by your favourite restaurants.
  • Take nutritional supplements (for example, Boost, Ensure or other brands) as needed.
  • Maintain good oral health.

Some practical links

Here are some websites that provide information on nutrition for older adults during the pandemic:

If you have significant difficulties with your diet or need advice to get started, contact the Info-Santé 811 service.

Mental and cognitive health

Cognitive health refers to the ability to perceive, understand and analyze the information around us.

Am I at risk of a deterioration in my mental and cognitive health?

Mental health

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Has my interest in some activities decreased lately?
  • Do I feel lonely or am I bored?
  • Do I feel depressed or sad?
  • Do I feel worried or anxious?
  • Do I lack energy or feel more tired than usual?
Cognitive health

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I forget things (appointments, medications, etc.)?
  • Do I confuse days and dates more?
  • Do I look for my words more often than usual?
  • Do I react less quickly during discussions or games?
  • Do I have more difficulty organizing the steps to prepare a meal?

What should I do if I answer yes to one or more of these questions?

Here are some ideas

  • Exercise regularly, according to your abilities (see the Autonomy and mobility section).
  • Eat well (see the Nutrition and hydration section).
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.
  • Get quality sleep so that you feel rested when you wake up.
  • See to your personal care and get dressed every day.
  • Do intellectually stimulating activities and vary them according to your interests. For example, read, play cards, board games or memory games available online or on some tablet or smartphone apps, do a puzzle, do crosswords or sudokus, practice an art, listen to music, sing or learn to play a musical instrument, cook, garden, do DIY projects, knit, surf the web, learn a new language, etc.
  • Allow yourself small pleasures.
  • Set a goal to achieve every day, a meaningful activity that you enjoy and that makes you feel good.
  • Spread the tasks and things you have to do throughout the week so that you keep busy.
  • Break your isolation by contacting a loved one, a friend or a neighbour.

Some practical links

Here are some websites that provide information on mental and cognitive health during the pandemic:

If you have significant difficulties related to your mental and cognitive health or need advice to get started, contact the Info-Social 811 service. Psychosocial workers will offer you support and give you information and advice based on your needs.