Dorothea W. Barthel

Dorothea Wilhelmine (née Barthel) Beauchamp (1911 – 2003) was an American physical therapist.

At the time of her retirement she was the head of the Physical Therapy Department at three Maryland state hospitals, Montebello, Salisbury and Hagerstown. Eponymously remembered for defining the ‘Barthel Index’ with with Dr. Florence I. Mahoney in 1965. The pair originally described the measure as “A simple index of independence useful in scoring improvement in the rehabilitation of the chronically ill”. The Barthel Index is one of the most widely-used assessments of functional independence.

  • Born March 9, 1911
  • 1939 – BA, Goucher College
  • 1945 – PT, Army medical center
  • 1945-1946 US Army in World War II
  • 1955 – Physical therapist at Montebello State Hospital, Baltimore
  • 1956 – Instructor of rehabilitation in the Department of preventative medicine and rehabilitation, University of Maryland School of Medicine
  • 1968 – Married William D. Beauchamp and took the name Dorothea B. Beauchamp
  • Died October 22, 2003 (aged 92)

Medical Eponyms
Barthel index (1965)

The Barthel Index (BI) measures ten functions that are important for independent living – feeding, bathing grooming, dressing, bowel and bladder continence, toileting, transfers, mobility, and stair use. Items are weighted and scored according to their perceived importance. Higher scores indicate better performance. In the most commonly used version, the maximum score of 100 indicates full independence.

The Barthel Index was one of the first activities of daily living (ADL) measures to be developed. Since its initial publication, it has been modified to both expand and restrict the item scoring. Shah (1989) expanded the scoring categories to improve the scale discriminability. Others have simplified the scoring system, while incorporating additional categories, to sum to a maximum of 20 points.

The BI and the Functional Independence Measure (FIM) are the two most widely used measures of ADL in stroke research. The BI tends to be used more frequently in Europe while the FIM is more likely to be used in North America. Despite problems with some psychometric properties of the BI, it has good clinical utility in that it requires little staff training, is quick and easy to administer, and is free.

History of the Barthel Index

Dorothea Barthel, designed the index in 1955 whilst a physical therapist at Montebello State Hospital in Baltimore. All patients undergoing rehabilitation at the hospital had the Barthel Index measured, leading to a number of publications utilizing it as the “gold standard” for functional evaluation.

Major Publications




Dr Kathryn Scott LITFL Author

Graduated from Southampton Medical School in 2017 with BMBS. Working in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Emergency Department in Perth, Australia.

Dr Sarah Longstaffe LITFL

Studied at University of Birmingham MBChB, and King's College London BSc (Psychology). British doctor working in Emergency Medicine, Perth. Special interests include elderly care, neurology and emergency medicine.

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