Objective: To determine the life circumstances and psychosocial status of individuals with respirator-assisted and respirator-independent high tetraplegia an average of 19 years after spinal cord injury.
Design: Survey data were analyzed separately for ventilator-assisted and ventilator-independent groups.
Setting: Three spinal cord injury rehabilitation centers in California, Colorado, and Texas.
Subjects: Eighty-two individuals with CI-C4 tetraplegia between 14 and 24 years postinjury who had received acute inpatient rehabilitation.
Main outcome measures: Demographics, health care utilization patterns, activities of daily living (Katz Level of Free Time Activities Scale), self esteem (Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale), quality of life, and employment.
Results: Self esteem and quality of life were, reported as high. Most subjects had some form of health care insurance. More than 90% lived in private homes. Approximately one third of cases had at least a college degree, yet only one quarter reported being employed. One fifth of individuals were married. Almost half of ventilator-independent cases and one quarter of ventilator-assisted cases lived in households with income of less than $20,000 per year. Mean hospital days in the past year were 11 for the ventilator-independent group and 6 for the ventilator-assisted group. The latter group required more nursing level care, significantly more hours of care, and more paid attendants over the year. Ninety-five percent of individuals reported being "glad to be alive."
Conclusions: Assistance in the areas of socialization, financial status, personal assistance services, transportation, and entry into competitive employment were defined as needed. Quality of life was higher than expected, considering the substantial physical limitations of the group. The sample was almost unanimously glad to be alive, including all ventilator-assisted individuals.