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Better understanding vulnerability to promote the inclusion of seniors

In government documents and expert language, the concept of vulnerability is often used to describe seniors. Even so, there’s no agreement on what it means to be vulnerable, and vulnerability is commonly used interchangeably with terms like frailty. This can create labels for seniors that can significantly impact the interventions available to them.

What exactly does it mean to describe a senior as vulnerable? At team led by researcher Mélanie Levasseur at the Centre de recherche sur le vieillissement affiliated with the Université de Sherbrooke carried out an extensive literature review to refine the definitions and means used to measure vulnerability. As a next step, they discussed the definitions with people who work with seniors. At the outcome of the process, the following definition was proposed: a set of circumstances in which one or more people experience complications of a biological, psychological, socioeconomic, social or environmental nature that increase their risk of being injured or harmed or who experience adaptation difficulties that impact their lives.

Among the concerns raised by Mélanie Levasseur and her collaborators is the fact that vulnerability is often considered to be an individual characteristic. However, the proposed definition recognizes vulnerability as an attribute related to a situation rather than a label attached to an individual. While a person may be experiencing some of the characteristics that could qualify them as vulnerable, they may not be in a situation of vulnerability if their environmental challenges are resolved through homecare support, for example. In the current context of an aging population and the growing number of people suffering from isolation and loneliness, reaching a consensus on the definition of the term vulnerability and finding less stigmatizing ways to measure it will help promote the inclusion and participation of seniors in society.



  • Levasseur, M., Lussier-Therrien, M., Biron, M.-L., Dubois, M.-F., Boissy, P., Naud, D., Dubuc, N., Coallier, J.-C., Calvé, J., et Audet, M. (2022). « Scoping study of definitions of and instruments measuring vulnerability in older adults », Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 70 (1), 269-280.
  • Levasseur, M, Naud, D., Presse, N., Delli-Colli, N., Boissy, P., Cossette, B., Couturier, Y., et Genesse, J.-C. (2022). « Aging all over the place: A multidisciplinary framework for advancing perspectives of older adults within their communities », Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, 23 (3), 150-162.