What is habilitation?

Dr. Gary E. Eddey.

By Gary E. Eddey, MD

The term “habilitation” refers to an approach to healthcare services for individuals with developmental disabilities. It includes comprehensive medical, nursing, therapeutic and educational care, is designed for children and adults and can be provided in either a community or inpatient setting. Habilitation services are essential for those with congenital disabilities, or disabilities acquired early in life, and are often best provided in a community setting for the majority of individuals with developmental disabilities.

Habilitation focuses on the individual, improving his/her functioning and overall health in a supportive environment. It takes into consideration needs in a wide variety of areas including social services, psychology, psychiatry, recreation, therapies, integrated medical and nursing services and, depending on age, educational services. Research confirms the two-way relationship between a full and active lifestyle and physical health for persons with disabilities.

A successful habilitative model must maximize potential at all points along the lifespan continuum. With its emphasis on an integrated approach to care and services, the habilitative model reverses or impedes a decline in health among this at-risk population.

The goal of habilitation is to normalize the life of the individual with developmental disabilities as well as his/her family. Families are a critical element in the care and support of people with disabilities. They are advocates and guardians in most instances. However, the abilities and needs of families must continually be assessed throughout the life cycle. Frequently families can and do provide care when the individual with disabilities is young. This becomes more difficult and, impossible for some, as the individual with disabilities ages.

(The first of several articles by Gary E. Eddey, MD, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Matheny, on the habilitative healthcare model).