What is Functional Assessment?

A functional assessment is the identification and analysis of activities and abilities to provide insight into behavior or function. The term is used to describe a variety of applications including behavioral assessments, elderly health care, chronic illness treatments, and job training.

Assessment Versus Analysis

An assessment is merely a tool to establish the status of a situation or person, not a remedy to solve problems. The assessment involves observation and testing to fully understand a situation or event. Once the observation and testing are complete, it is possible to move forward with the analysis to explore the next steps in devising a plan to resolve any problems that may have come to light during the assessment. The analysis determines the best course of action for testing theories and trying experiments to solve these issues.

Behavior Assessment

A method used to change problematic behaviors, behavior analysis seeks to identify the reason or impetus for deeds or actions and the results that reinforce the behavior. The behavior assessment does not attempt to change these causes or effects, yet merely involves observing the person in several environments to determine the circumstances surrounding the behavior. After the functional assessment is complete, the next step in the analysis is to experiment with altering the inputs or outcomes to change the problematic behavior. This method is often used with developmentally delayed children, for example those with autism.

Elderly Patients

Physicians who work with the elderly determine the functional abilities of their patients using a series of assessment tests. These examinations and observations test the motor, cognitive and sensory skills of the elderly patient as disease and age related decline typically affects these faculties. The doctor will determine the necessary tests based on the health of the patient. An appraisal of functional abilities may be performed quickly by the physician, or a full range of testing called the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment may be required.

Chronic Diseases

A special patient questionnaire used to determine the results of treatments for chronic illnesses also uses this term. The FACIT Measurement System is the official name of this questionnaire assessing treatment effectiveness and functionality for diseases such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis. The goal is to improve care for chronic illnesses and conditions by determining patients' physical, emotional, social, and functional well-being during and after treatment. Researchers performing drug trials or assessing new therapies use these surveys, which can be completed by the patients themselves or administered by professionals.

On the Job

Certain high-risk jobs may require the employee to pass a test of functional ability prior to beginning work or periodically throughout their employment. The assessment ensures that the employee is able to perform their assigned tasks safely and effectively. These assessments may include a thorough physical examination by a doctor, psychological analysis, and tests specifically related to job knowledge and tasks. The tests, also known as a Functional Capacity Evaluation, are administered and analyzed by licensed professionals.

Whether used in psychology, the health care industry or on the job, an assessment of function determines the status of the situation at hand. Analysis can then be used to determine the proper course of action such as hiring the employee, or changing the care requirements for an elderly patient.