New Online Course for SCI Caregivers

October 4, 2023

“Understanding Spinal Cord Injury: A Course for Personal Care Assistants,” a new interactive online course designed to introduce personal care assistants (PCA’s) to spinal cord injury, is now available on the Internet. It was presented recently at the Paralyzed Veterans of America Healthcare (PVA) Summit. The course was developed by the Center for Spinal Cord Injury Research at Kessler Foundation. The online class is available at no cost at, and is the first of its kind. Spinal cord injury creates a need for hands-on help with important daily tasks. However, obtaining reliable, high-quality personal care assistance is often difficult due to high turnover rates among paid caregivers and insufficient knowledge among home health care workers about the unique needs of individuals living with spinal cord injury.

“Understanding Spinal Cord Injury,” was developed as a basic resource to help prepare caregivers in the daily lives of people with spinal cord injury. The course describes the types of spinal cord injury, common physical needs, personal and social challenges, and potential secondary complications, as well as common misunderstandings about SCI. Special topics include building positive assistant-client relationships, managing blood pressure, understanding assistive technology and medical equipment, and transferring clients safely to and from their wheelchairs.

“For people with spinal cord injuries, routine personal care assistance is vital to preventing medical complications and facilitating their involvement at home, work, and school,” said Cheryl Vines, Director of Research and Education at the PVA.

Collaboration was fundamental to the course’s development, according to Dr. Jeanne Zanca, the project’s director. It was guided by a steering committee of people with real-world experience with spinal cord injury including seasoned PCAs, home health care agency leaders, trainers, family members, and rehabilitation clinicians. The modules were developed by Kessler Foundation in collaboration with Shepherd Center in Atlanta, The National Institute on Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research NIDILRR) and the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Education Foundation provided funding.

“Focus groups and interviews were conducted with people with spinal cord injury, family caregivers, clinicians, and experienced PCAs,” Dr. Zanca explained, “to ensure that the modules reflect the priorities of individuals with spinal cord injury as well as the educational needs of assistants.”

The course was pilot-tested by personal care assistants without prior experience with spinal cord injury care. “Their feedback was positive,” Dr. Zanca said, “indicating that they gained practical information by completing the course and felt prepared to work effectively with clients with spinal cord injury.”

More information about how to register for this online course can be found by following this link.

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