What Is a Permanent Impairment?

C.B. Fox
C.B. Fox
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

A permanent impairment is a psychological or physiological condition that is not going to improve over time or with medical intervention. Patients who have an impairment can be evaluated by medical professionals in order to determine whether the impairment is permanent. In many cases, a permanent impairment may be treated as a disability, though this depends on the disability evaluation scale that is used.

The easiest type of permanent impairment to diagnose is one that affects the patient's physiology. An injury or illness can damage a patient's body in such a way that returning to the state the patient was in before the disorder is impossible. Limbs that are amputated and organs that are surgically removed are some of the more severe examples of these types of conditions. Less serious injuries and illnesses can also cause irreversible damage, often to the joints or to the organs.

Psychological conditions can also lead to a permanent impairment to a patient's mental health. Conditions such as schizophrenia, personality disorder, and autism are not considered curable. Patients with these types of disorders may be given treatment, often in the form of medication and methods for coping with their condition, but the expectation is that the condition will persist for the lifetime of the patient, even if the condition is effectively managed. Sometimes, a permanent impairment of the mind can occur as a result of injury, stroke, or the deterioration of brain function.

Many conditions that create a permanent impairment can be corrected medically or technologically. Missing limbs and damaged joints can be replaced by prosthetics. Incurable diseases such as diabetes can often be managed through diet and medication. Patients who have a permanent impairment do not always feel the effects of the impairments because of the advanced medical care they receive. By some definitions, however, these patients may be considered permanently disabled.

A doctor must thoroughly examine a patient to determine if there is a permanent impairment present. In many cases, it can take years to receive this diagnosis, though there are some impairments that are obviously permanent from the beginning. This diagnosis is different than the diagnosis of a permanent disability. A patient can have an impairment but this impairment may not interfere with the patient's day to day life or work. A woman who has has a hysterectomy, for example, has a permanent impairment because her uterus is gone, but the loss of the uterus will not adversely affect her ability to function and would not be considered a disability.

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