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Understanding Disabilities as a PSW

December 24, 2014

Elderly Patient and Nurse

Students taking personal support worker training today will likely go on to serve Canada’s growing elderly population, assisting in their everyday tasks and day-to-day needs. An important aspect of PSW courses is learning to help patients manage their disabilities – both physical and mental – that are commonly associated with old age. While some students may have some experience helping family members cope with ailments, many age-related disabilities are quite complicated. PSWs need knowledge and training to do their job well. Read on to learn more about some of the most common disabilities and conditions associated with older patients.


Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that progresses over time, gradually causing the loss of bodily functions. Alzheimer patients usually begin by suffering memory loss, furthered by mood swings, speech problems and disorientation. Alzheimer’s has three stages: mild, moderate and severe. In the severe stage, patients will usually require assistance with eating, dressing and general mobility.


Patients with arthritis often find waking up in the morning most difficult, due to overnight joint stiffness. Since arthritis patients are mostly affected at their joints, it is important they keep active, but not strain themselves. Being overweight can make arthritis worse, which is why personal support worker courses train students how to prepare and cook healthy meals for patients. Exercise may also be necessary, as will some minor assistance carrying heavy or awkward items.

Senior with painful arm


Characterized by a high risk of fracture, osteoporosis is a disease that causes deterioration of the bone tissue and bone mass. Lifestyle habits can greatly improve an osteoporosis patient’s life, since bones grow stronger with activity. A personal support worker may help clients perform some light exercises – those involving lifting weights are best for exercising the bone. Other exercises may include dancing, walking, stairs or small weight lifting.


Like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease. The disease is characterised by tremors due to a lack of dopamine and a subsequent loss of muscle control. Parkinson’s patients may have difficulty walking, moving, and the disease can cause constipation and issues swallowing. Personal support workers assigned to a Parkinson’s patient are responsible for monitoring changes in the patient’s disease, such as dizziness or confusion, which may put them at risk for falling.


A stroke is a complicated condition with a wide variety of health consequences. Someone is more at risk for stroke if they are overweight, elderly or lack physical activity. A stroke can be extremely debilitating, causing paralysis in half the body, slowed body movements, vision problems and short term memory loss. After having one stroke, a patient has a higher risk of suffering another. A personal support worker may help a patient with speech exercises, playing memory games, puzzles or crosswords. Range of motion exercises can also be beneficial for stroke sufferers to promote flexibility and reduce stiffness in their muscles.

Have you had experience working with a patient with one of these conditions? What were the main challenges?



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