Glossary of Terms

You may hear or see words that are new to you during your rehabilitation process. The definitions below include some of the most common terms used by rehabilitation healthcare staff.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs): ADLs refer to daily self-care activities that take place within an individual's place of residence, in outdoor environments, or both. ADLs include eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring (walking), and continence (the ability to control one’s bowels and bladder). Health professionals routinely refer to the ability or inability to perform ADLs as a measurement of the functional status of a person.

Aphasia: Aphasia is an acquired language disorder caused by damage to the brain. It ranges from having difficulty remembering words to losing the ability to speak, read, or write, but it does not affect intelligence.

Autonomic dysreflexia (AD): AD is a potentially life-threatening condition that may require immediate attention. AD occurs most often in spinal cord-injured individuals and is a reaction of the involuntary nervous system to overstimulation. Symptoms include sudden throbbing headaches, profuse sweating, nasal stuffiness, flushing of the skin above the level of the spinal cord injury, slow heart rate, anxiety, and sometimes confusion or speech problems.

Cognition: Cognition is the set of all mental abilities including attention, memory and working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning and computation, problem solving and decision making, and comprehension and production of language.

Contracture: Contracture is the shortening or tightening of the skin, muscle, or joint that prevents normal movement or flexibility of the area.

Dysphagia: Dysphagia is difficulty swallowing that usually occurs because the muscles and nerves that help move food through the throat and esophagus are not working correctly.

Function: Function is a person’s ability to use his or her various body parts, such as arms, legs, hands, or head.

Functional levels or functional status: Functional levels or functional status is the degree of a patient's disability that indicates how much assistance is required for the individual to carry out activities of daily living (ADLs).

Home Health Care: Home health care is nursing care and therapy provided in your home. This type of care is often provided when you are healthy enough to stay at home but have difficulty doing some regular activities or self-care and cannot travel to and from outpatient rehabilitation or physical therapy.

Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility (IRF): An IRF provides 24-hour nursing care and medical management. See Make the Right Decision brochure for more information.

Mobility: Mobility is the ability to move in one's environment with ease and without restriction.

Outpatient: Outpatient is treatment that occurs in a doctor’s office or hospital without an overnight stay.

Physiatrist: A physiatrist is a rehabilitation medical doctor who is a nerve, muscle, and bone expert and treats injuries or illnesses that affect how a person moves.

PRN: PRN is a phrase used by healthcare providers that means “as needed.” PRN may be used in instructions for certain medicines that are to be taken only when needed, such as medications for constipation or chest pain. It is important to know if there is a limit to the total number of these medications that can be taken in one day or during a certain period of time.

Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF): SNF provides long-term nursing care for patients who need rehabilitation care or are chronically ill. See Make the Right Decision brochure for more information.

Spasticity: Spasticity is an abnormally increased state of tightness in the muscle.

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): SCI means that damage has occurred to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal. SCI often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation, and other body functions below the place of the injury.

Subacute: Subacute care means any health or medical care provided outside of the acute or regular hospital setting. Subacute rehabilitation involves regular therapy for less time each day than is provided in the IRF or inpatient rehabilitation facility, which requires a total of 3 hours of therapy each day.

Transfers: Transfers mean moving from one place to another, such as from a bed to a wheelchair.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A TBI means damage to the brain by a head injury has occurred that may affect bodily functions, speech, movement, memory, moods, and behavior.

Glossary Conditions