What is an impairment?

An impairment is a problem with a structure or organ in the body or a significant difference in someone’s body or mental functioning. It includes an abnormality or loss of physiological, psychological, or anatomical structure or function.

Different types of impairments include:

  • Visual impairments
  • Hearing impairments
  • Intellectual impairments
  • Physical impairments
  • Neurodiversity
  • Learning impairments
  • Speech impairments
  • Psychosocial impairments

Impairments fall within two broad categories: structural and functional. Structural impairments involve a significant problem with an internal or external component of the body. For instance, nerve damage is an impairment that may result in multiple sclerosis, or amputation can lead to the complete loss of a specific body part. Functional impairments, in comparison, are a total or partial loss of function in a part of the body. An example of this is joints that no longer move as easily.

How do impairments affect healthcare?

According to the World Health Organization, impairment is one dimension of disability, along with participation restriction and activity limitation.

Impairments can significantly affect a person's ability to complete activities of daily living and may negatively impact their quality of life. Various healthcare fields focused on assisting those with impairments, such as physical therapy, can help improve well-being and lessen pain and discomfort.