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To determine a valid, reliable and clinical user-friendly instrument, based on predictors of functional decline, to identify older patients at risk for functional decline. The predictors of functional decline are initially considered and, subsequently, the characteristics and psychometric qualities of existing screening instruments are investigated.Functional decline is a common and serious problem in older hospitalized patients, resulting in a change in quality of life and lifestyle. Studies have shown that 30–60% of older people develop new dependencies in activities of daily living (ADL) during their hospital stay. Adverse health outcomes such as mortality, a prolonged hospital stay, nursing home placement and increased dependency of older people at home are the results. Not only are the personal costs high but also, in a rapidly growing older population, the impact on health-care costs is also high.Age, lower functional status, cognitive impairment, preadmission disability in instrumental activities of daily life (IADL), depression and length of hospital stay were identified as predictors of functional decline. Three screening instruments to identify hospitalized patients at risk for functional decline were found in the literature: the Hospital Admission Risk Profile, the Identification of Seniors at Risk and the Care Complexity Prediction Instrument. The reported validity was moderate. Reliability and the ease of use in the clinical setting were not well described.These three instruments should be further tested in a hospitalized older population.Screening is a first step to identify patients at risk for functional decline and this will make it possible to treat patients who are identified so as to prevent functional decline. Because of their ability to observe and to guide the patients and the overall view they have, nurses play a key role in this process.