Comparison of subjective ratings of function with observed functional ability of frail older persons

Am J Public Health. 1991 Sep;81(9):1127-30. doi: 10.2105/ajph.81.9.1127.


Background: Important clinical decisions often hinge on patients' functional status. Previous studies have shown disagreement among sources of ratings of patients' functional status. This study compared patient self-ratings, family member ratings, and physician ratings of patient function to performance-based functional testing criteria.

Methods: Five activities of daily living of 73 older patients were studied at admission to a rehabilitation unit following discharge from an acute care community hospital. Data were collected from patients, family members, and physicians and were compared with performance-based function testing.

Results: Patient ratings were significantly more accurate than physician ratings for walking, transferring, and telephoning. Patients were significantly more accurate than family members for rating walking and telephoning, but patients were not significantly more accurate than family members or physicians for rating eating or dressing.

Conclusions: We conclude that decisions about patients' functional level should be based on performance testing. If performance testing is unavailable, patients' own ratings are most accurate, followed by family ratings. Physicians' ratings are least accurate.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Family
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly*
  • Geriatric Assessment*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians
  • Self-Assessment