Updated January 2023
The vast majority of personal support workers (PSWs) in Ontario work with seniors. In fact, it's our rapidly aging population that is driving such a strong demand for PSWs across the province. The Government of Canada Job Bank predicts excellent employment opportunities for personal support workers right across Ontario.
Personal support workers play (and will continue to play) an absolutely vital role in helping Canadian seniors maintain independence and quality of life as they age.
Working directly in patients' homes or in long-term care residences, PSWs provide essential help with a wide range of daily tasks—including personal hygiene, nutrition, exercise, social activities planning, and household management.
Naturally, a key part of PSW training is learning to assist patients with serious physical, cognitive, and mental health challenges. Because PSWs most often work with seniors, they must be prepared for the practical and emotional challenges of supporting patients with serious, life-threatening conditions.
One such serious—and very common—condition is Alzheimer's disease. In this post, we look at six Alzheimer's myths, facts, and stats to help prepare PSW students to better support their future patients.
Alzheimer's Myth #1: My patient can't have Alzheimer's...he remembers so much!
It's true that Alzheimer's disease impacts memory—but what many people don't know is that the newest memories are the first to go.
Long-term memories, including specific details like dates and names, may endure for quite some time. You often won't notice serious deterioration of long-term memory until the disease is quite advanced.
Alzheimer's Myth #2: Alzheimer's patients are angry and violent
There is a common misconception that all Alzheimer's patients are eventually consumed by frustration and will lash out violently at family members and caregivers. While it's true that some patients experience emotional upset and anger at times, there is no "one-size-fits-all" experience of this disease.
PSWs will work with patients who become extra quiet and withdrawn under the influence of Alzheimer's. Others will experience periods of anger, as well as phases of calm. Each individual reacts in their own unique way—it's the personal support worker's role to understand those differences and adapt to each patient's needs.
Alzheimer's Myth #3: An Alzheimer's diagnosis means the end of life as we know it
If one of your patients is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, their family members may immediately assume it's the end of life as they knew it. They fear the worst. They assume their parent will decline rapidly, fail to recognize them overnight, and become a shadow of their former self.
The truth is, if Alzheimer's is diagnosed early, medications can be very helpful in slowing the progression of the disease. And with a healthy diet, regular exercise, socializing activities, and keeping the brain active, many patients can lead meaningful lives for quite some time.
This is where PSWs play such an important role. It's your job to oversee and organize those helpful daily routines, which play such a vital part in maintaining the best possible quality of life for your Alzheimer's patients.
Alzheimer's Myth #4: Memory loss automatically means Alzheimer's
Notice your patient is having trouble remembering things? Don't jump to the conclusion that he or she is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's!
Some memory loss is actually normal and a natural part of aging. When should you be concerned and alert your supervisor? If your patient is routinely forgetting the names of loved ones and having difficulty performing daily tasks because of memory loss, it's time to take action and report those changes.
Alzheimer's Myth #5: Dementia and Alzheimer's are the same thing
Dementia is actually an umbrella term used to describe many different kinds of memory loss caused by changes in the brain. Alzheimer's disease is one type of dementia—but there are more than 70 other types and causes—including strokes, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and Pick’s disease.
Alzheimer's Myth #6: We can prevent Alzheimer's from developing
There is no method of preventing Alzheimer's disease, and no known cure. However, some studies have shown that a healthy diet, aerobic exercise, challenging the brain with puzzles and games, and staying socially active may reduce the odds of getting Alzheimer's.
Again, this is where PSWs play such an important role in helping seniors stay as healthy as possible. Family members typically don't have time to arrange and supervise healthy daily activities for their loved ones—and nurses and doctors definitely don't have time!
It's PSWs who oversee the daily routine and ensure patients stay as active, healthy, and positive as possible.
Interested in learning more about what PSWs do? Considering PSW training?
Explore the Personal Support Worker Program offered by Herzing College at the Ottawa and Toronto campuses.
Click below to see a complete course list and learn about admission requirements and career paths—or to chat live with a friendly advisor. We're here to help!