Functional independence among young adults with spina bifida, in relation to hydrocephalus and level of lesion


* Correspondence to first author at Centre of Excellence for Rehabilitation Medicine Utrecht, Rehabilitation Centre De Hoogstraat, Rembrandtkade 10, 3583 TM Utrecht, the Netherlands. E-mail:


Knowledge about the level of functional independence that can be expected in adulthood might support decisions on the treatment of newborn infants with spina bifida. This study determined functional independence among young adults with spina bifida and its relationships with pathological characteristics known from birth (hydrocephalus and level of lesion). Data were collected from medical records and by physical examination. Functional independence was assessed on six domains (self-care, sphincter control, transfers, locomotion, communication, and social cognition) using the Functional Independence Measure (FIM). Participants were 165 patients with spina bifida (69 males, 96 females; age range 16 to 25y, mean 20y 9mo [SD 2.9]; 117 with hydrocephalus). Patients without hydrocephalus were independent for all FIM domains except sphincter control, as were patients with hydrocephalus with a lesion level below L2. Most patients with hydrocephalus and a lesion at L2 or above were dependent as regards sphincter control (98%), locomotion (79%), and self-care (54%), and quite a few needed support in transfers (38%), social cognition (29%), and communication (15%).