Persisting disability after brain damage usually comprises both mental and physical handicap. The mental component is often the more important in contributing to overall social disability. Lack of an objective scale leads to vague and over-optimistic estimates of outcome, which obscure the ultimate results of early management. A five-point scale is described--death, persistent vegetative state, severe disability, moderate disability, and good recovery. Duration as well as intensity of disability should be included in an index of ill-health; this applies particularly after head injury, because many disabled survivors are young.