Assessing physical function and activity for survivors of a critical illness: a review of instruments

Aust Crit Care. 2011 Aug;24(3):155-66. doi: 10.1016/j.aucc.2011.05.002. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


Background: Functional outcomes and health-related quality of life are important measures for survivors of a critical illness. Studies have demonstrated debilitating physical effects for a significant proportion of surviving patients, particularly those with intensive care unit-acquired weakness. Contemporary practice changes include a focus on the continuum of critical illness, with less sedation and more physical activity including mobility while in ICU, and post-ICU and post-hospitalisation activities to support optimal recovery. How to best assess the physical function of patients at different phases of their recovery and rehabilitation is therefore important.

Purpose: This narrative review paper examined observational and functional assessment instruments used for assessing patients across the in-ICU, post-ICU and post-hospital continuum of critical illness.

Methods: Relevant papers were identified from a search of bibliographic databases and a review of the reference list of selected articles. The clinimetric properties of physical function and HRQOL measures and their relevance and utility in ICU were reported in narrative format.

Findings: The review highlighted many different instruments used to measure function in survivors of ICU including muscle strength testing, functional tests and walk tests, and patient centred outcomes such as health related quality of life. In general, the sensitivity and validity of these instruments for use with survivors of a critical illness has not yet been established.

Conclusion: Based on findings from the review, screening of patients using reliable and valid instruments for ICU patients is recommended to inform both practice and future studies of interventions aimed at improving recovery and rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Critical Illness / rehabilitation*
  • Exercise Test
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength
  • Muscle Strength Dynamometer
  • Quality of Life*
  • Survivors