Functional changes in persons aging with spinal cord injury.

Declines in general physical function and the effect of these changes on activities of daily living and needs for assistance were assessed in 150 individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI). The sample consisted of outpatients returning for follow-up at the spinal cord injury clinic at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, CA. The average duration of injury of the sample was 13 years (range 1-37), and average age was 38 years (range 18-64). Twenty-four percent of those sampled experienced a decline or change in their physical function within the last 5 years. Individuals experiencing declines were significantly older than those without changes, averaging 45 years versus 36 years. The group with change also had a longer duration of injury, averaging 18 years versus 11 years compared to the group reporting no declines. Fatigue was the most frequently reported problem, followed by pain and weakness. Over half of the group with changes required additional assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). Family members were the primary helpers for both ADLs and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) for those persons experiencing changes. The use of assistive technology, primarily equipment for bathing, toileting, and low technology devices, increased with time. The increased vulnerability to loss of function in persons with advancing age and duration of injury in this population with SCI suggests the need for early preventative measures, routine assessments to detect changes, and access to health care and supportive services to alleviate or minimize the effect of these changes.