Review Article| Volume 66, ISSUE 6, P619-632, June 2013

New technology–based functional assessment tools should avoid the weaknesses and proliferation of manual functional assessments

  • Shane A. Lowe
    Corresponding author. Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, School of Engineering & Informatics, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland. Tel.: +353-087-6610315; fax: +353-719-521359.
    Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, School of Engineering & Informatics, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland

    National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland
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  • Alejandro Rodríguez-Molinero
    Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, School of Engineering & Informatics, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland

    Geriatric Unit, Fundació Hospital Comarcal Sant Antoni Abat, Vilanova i la Geltru, Barcelona, Spain
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  • Liam Glynn
    General Practice, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland
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  • Paul P. Breen
    Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, School of Engineering & Informatics, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland

    National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland

    The Marks Institute, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia
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  • Paul M.A. Baker
    Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U), Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA
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  • Jon Sanford
    Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA
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  • Brian D. Jones
    Interactive Media & Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA
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  • Gearóid ÓLaighin
    Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, School of Engineering & Informatics, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland

    National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland

    Galway Connected Health, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland
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Published:February 18, 2013DOI:



      Formal functional assessment tools for use with older adults have been in widespread use since the 1960s. Instruments have been designed to assess a wide range of different aspects of a person's everyday life. This article seeks to document the evolution of the tools used in such a way as to inform the development of the field.

      Study Design and Setting

      The Medline, CINHAL, and Science Direct databases were searched for relevant literature relating to the functional assessment of older adults. After analysis of initial results, a second-stage search was conducted to find literature relating to the use and validation of instruments found initially.


      Four categories of functional assessment instruments were identified for the purposes of this article: basic activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental ADL, global health scales, and performance-based tests of functional ability. These categories and several of the most widely used tools therein are discussed chronologically to document the evolution of the field.


      With the advancement of technology has come the possibility to perform functional assessments in new ways. This outline of the evolution of functional assessment should be of considerable use as researchers seek to design new functional assessments for older adults.


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