Frail elderly person in wheelchair with caregiver

4. Supporting Physical Comfort: Part 1 - Tools, Medications and Pain

Build valuable skills in gathering and sharing information as you learn how to support physical comfort for a person with life-limiting illness.

Understand how to use standardized tools for gathering information and communicating with the team. Learn principles for using medications in palliative care and understand why opioid medications are essential medications used in palliative care.

Understand the common fears about using opioids, and ways to help manage the side effects of opioids. Pull it all together as you learn how to support a person experiencing pain as they decline and die.



PSWs are vital to providing care for people with life-limiting illnesses, as they decline and die. Discover the guidelines, (the principles) for supporting physical comfort and for using medications, including opioids, to manage symptoms. You''ll be prepared to gather and share information with the team after learning how to use standardized tools for gathering, recording and reporting information. The common symptom, pain, is explored and PSWs have the opportunity to apply their learning about supporting physical comfort to gather information, record and report.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Use the following standardized tools to gather and communicate information about a person’s health status to the nurse and team: Palliative Performance Scale (PPS), Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS), Symptom Framework for PSWs, and SBAR.
  • Explain the principles for supporting comfort and for using medications to manage symptoms.
  • Explain how opioid, non-opioid, and adjuvant medications support comfort.
  • Identify the PSW’s unique position on the care team that makes it most likely PSWs will be first to notice changes in a person’s health.
  • Demonstrate how to communicate changes in a person’s health to the care team and to advocate for the person’s care wishes and the need for serious illness conversations.
  • Discuss the PSW's responsibility for being informed about a person’s advance care plans and care wishes. Demonstrate ways to advocate for the incorporation of a person's and their designated family or caregivers’ values and beliefs into the care plan.
  • Using the Symptom Framework for PSWs, ask about the person’s understanding and their values regarding a symptom, and contribute this information to the person’s care plan and advance care plan.
  • Use best practice skills of listening, pausing, asking open-ended questions, and avoiding roadblocks to communication to create an encouraging and supportive environment for a person to share information about their care wishes.
  • For the symptom pain, explain causes of pain, gather information about a person’s pain, communicate information to the team, help to manage pain using preventive measures and support the family when a person is experiencing pain.



In this course you will need:

  1. Access to a printer for course documents
  2. A writing journal or notebook for writing reflections and course notes.
  3. Google Chrome is the recommended internet browser for these courses.




Individual course certificates of completion can be downloaded from the MY COURSES page after passing the quiz with a grade of 70% or higher.


Quiz Completion

If you cannot submit your completed quiz for grading, it is possible that you may not have opened every slide and allowed the timeline to complete. To correct this issue, return to the modules and check or play every slide to the end of the timeline. 


Module 1: The Vital Role of PSWs

PSWs are vital to the palliative care team. Find out why.

Module 1 provides the learning outcomes for this course and explores the concept that PSWs are central to providing excellent care for a dying person and their family.

Module 2 Gathering Information Using Standardized Tools

Learn about the tools used in palliative care that will help you to gather essential information, and to record and report information to the team.

What is a standardized tool and why is it important? This module answers these questions and provides step-by step instructions for working with common tools used for information gathering and communicating in palliative care. Case scenarios provide opportunities to practice with these tools and learn first hand how they work.

Module 3 Principles of Supporting Comfort and Using Medications to Manage Symptoms

Following these principles when providing palliative care will help you to better support a dying person and their family.

In Module 3, the principles that guide caregivers to know how to support comfort and use medication to manage symptoms in palliative care are explained. Non-pharmacological measures for supporting comfort are introduced and students are invited to build a comfort basket to use in their practice.

Module 4 Fears and Concerns About Opioids

The fears and concerns that people express about using opioids to manage symptoms can prevent them from receiving the care they need. Learn about common fears and concerns and how to support the person who expresses the concerns.

Many people express fears and concerns about using opioids to manage symptoms in palliative care, especially given the current opioid crisis of accidental overdoses. This module explores the fears and concerns, and provides practical and supportive ways for PSWs when the person or family ask questions about opioids.

Module 5 Pain

Pain is one of the common symptoms people with life-limiting illnesses experience. Discover how to gather information about pain and ways to support a person experiencing pain.

Module 5 discusses common causes of pain, ways for PSWs to gather information, support care wishes and advance care planning, and provides practical ways to support physical comfort.

Module 6 Course Quiz

Welcome to the final module for this course.

Requirements: 70% or greater to pass the course.

3 opportunities to pass the quiz.

The answer key is shown only after you have passed the quiz.

Check here before starting the quiz

Have you viewed, or clicked on all slides of all modules?

If you have missed any slides, the quiz will NOT be graded.

You will know you have missed slides if you submit the quiz for grading, and you do not get a grade for it within minutes.

How to fix this

  1. Go back into the modules, select "Menu" in the top left (red circle in image below). This view displays all the slides in the module. 
  2. A viewed slide will have a check mark beside it (Red arrows are pointing at the check marks).
  3. If a slide does not have a check mark beside it, click the title to set it as viewed. A check mark will appear.
  4. Repeat this process for all modules of the course.
  5. When finished, open the quiz module. You will now be able to submit the quiz for grading.

Good luck!