Rancho Los Amigos Scale

Developed by the head injury treatment staff at the Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, California, the Rancho Los Amigos Scale is a very complex analysis of post-brain injury cognitive function. Like the Glasgow Coma Scale, the Rancho Los Amigos Scale enables doctors to determine a traumatic brain injury victim's state of consciousness, extent of brain damage, and prognosis. The scale also allows neurologists and brain injury rehabilitation experts to evaluate a victim's behavior as he or she progresses through traumatic brain injury treatment.

The Rancho Los Amigos Scale describes eight levels of post-brain injury cognitive function. These levels describe a person's reliance on assistance to carry out cognitive and physical functions. Rancho Los Amigos- Original 8 Level Scale (Scale co-authored by Chris Hagen, Ph.D., Danese Malkmus, M.A., Patricia Durham, M.A. Communication Disorders Service, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, 1972. )

Levels of Cognitive Functioning

Level I - No Response
Patient appears to be in a deep sleep and is completely unresponsive to any stimuli presented to him or her.

Level II - Generalized Response
Patient reacts inconsistently and non-purposefully to stimuli in a non-specific manner. Responses are limited in nature and are often the same regardless of stimulus presented. Responses may be physiological changes, gross body movements, and/or vocalization. Often, the earliest response is to deep pain. Responses are likely to be delayed.

Level III - Localized Response
Patient reacts specifically, but inconsistently, to stimuli. Responses are directly related to the type of stimulus presented, as in turning head toward a sound or focusing on an object presented. The patient may withdraw an extremity and/or vocalize when presented with a painful stimulus. He may follow simple commands in an inconsistent, delayed manner such as closing his eyes, squeezing or extending an extremity. Once external stimuli is removed, he may lie quietly. The patient may also show a vague awareness of self and body by responding to discomfort by pulling at nasogastric tube or catheter or resisting restraints. He may show a bias toward responding to some persons (especially family, friends) but not to others.

Level IV - Confused/Agitated
Patient is in a heightened state of activity with severely decreased ability to process information. He is detached from the present and responds primarily to his own internal confusion. Behavior is frequently bizarre and non-purposeful relative to his immediate environment. He may cry out or scream out of proportion to stimuli even after removal, show aggressive behavior, attempt to remove restraints or tubes, or crawl out of bed in a purposeful manner. He does not, however, discriminate among persons or objects and is unable to cooperate directly with treatment efforts. Verbalization is frequently incoherent and/or inappropriate to the environment. Confabulation may be present; he may be euphoric or hostile. Thus, gross attention to environment is very short and selective attention is often nonexistent. Being unaware of present events, patient lacks short-term recall and may be reacting to past events. He is unable to perform self-care (feeding, dressing) without maximum assistance. If not disabled physically, he may perform motor activities such as sitting, reaching, and ambulating, but as part of his agitated state and not as a purposeful act or on request, necessarily.

Level V - Confused, Inappropriate Non-Agitated
Patient appears alert and is able to respond to simple commands fairly consistently; however, with increased complexity of commands or lack of any external structure, responses are non-purposeful, random, or, at best, fragmented toward any desired goal. He may show agitated behavior, but not on an internal basis (as in Level IV), but rather as a result of external stimuli, and usually out of proportion to the stimulus. He has gross attention to the environment, but is highly distractible and lacks ability to focus attention to a specific task without frequent re-direction back to it. With structure, he may be able to converse on a social-automatic level for short periods of time. Verbalization is often inappropriate; confabulation may be triggered by present events. His memory is severely impaired, with confusion of past and present in his reaction to ongoing activity. Patient lacks initiation of functional tasks and often shows inappropriate use of objects without external direction. He may be able to perform previously-learned tasks when structured for him, but is unable to learn new information. He responds best to self, body, comfort, and, often, family members. The patient can usually perform self-care activities, with assistance, and may accomplish feeding with maximum supervision. Management on the ward is often a problem if the patient is physically mobile, as he may wander off, either randomly or with vague intentions of "going home."

Level VI - Confused, Appropriate
Patient shows goal-directed behavior, but is dependent on external input for direction. Response to discomfort is appropriate and he is able to tolerate unpleasant stimuli (as NG tube) when need is explained. He follows simple directions consistently and shows carry-over for tasks he has relearned (as self-care). He is at least supervised with old learning; unable to maximally be assisted for new learning with little or no carry-over (Don't know what this sentence means.) Responses may be incorrect due to memory problem, but they are appropriate to the situation. They may be delayed to immediate and he shows decreased ability to process information with little or no anticipation or prediction of events. Past memories show more depth and detail than recent memory. The patient may show beginning immediate awareness of situations by realizing he does not know an answer. He no longer wanders and is inconsistently oriented to time and place. Selective attention to task may be impaired, especially with difficult tasks and in unstructured settings, but is now functional for common daily activities (30 min. with structure). He may show a vague recognition of some staff, has increased awareness of self, family and basic needs (as food), again, in an appropriate manner as in contrast to Level V.

Level VII - Automatic, Appropriate
Patient appears appropriate and oriented within hospital and home settings, goes through daily routine automatically, but frequently robot-like, with minimal-to-absent confusion, but has shallow recall of what he has been doing. He shows increased awareness of self, body, family, foods, people, and interaction in the environment. He has superficial awareness of, but lacks insight into, his condition, decreased judgment and problem-solving and lacks realistic planning for his future. He shows carry-over for new learning, but at a decreased rate. He requires at least minimal supervision for learning and for safety purposes. He is independent in self-care activities and supervised in home and community skills for safety. With structure, he is able to initiate tasks as social or recreational activities in which he now has interest. His judgment remains impaired; such that he is unable to drive a car. Prevocational or a vocational evaluation and counseling may be indicated.

Level VIII - Purposeful, Appropriate
Patient is alert and oriented, is able to recall and integrate past and recent events, and is aware of, and responsive to, his culture. He shows carry-over for new learning if acceptable to him and his life role, and needs no supervision once activities are learned. Within his physical capabilities, he is independent in home and community skills, including driving. Vocational rehabilitation, to determine ability to return as contributor to society (perhaps in a new capacity) is indicated. He may continue to show a decreased ability, relative to premorbid abilities, in abstract reasoning, tolerance for stress, judgment in emergencies or unusual circumstances. His social, emotional, and intellectual capacities may continue to be at a decreased level for him, but functional in society.

Another well-known and widely used system is the Glasgow Coma Scale. Please read further to learn about this system. To learn more about traumatic brain injury and how it is caused, diagnosed, and treated, please read other articles on this site.

[Last revision: July 2009]

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