Slideshow: What Are Activities of Daily Living Anyway?

Everything you need to know about ADLs and IADLs

A man brushing his teeth getting ready for the day

The phrase “activities of daily living” gets thrown around a lot at the doctor’s office, at physical and occupational therapy appointments — and in assisted living materials. So what are these so-called “activities of daily living” and just why are they so important?

Activities of Daily Living

Activities of daily living (ADLs) is a term used in health care to refer to a series of basic activities performed by individuals on a daily basis necessary for independent living at home or in the community.

The concept was originally proposed in the 1950s, and there are many variations on the definition of the activities of daily living. Most health care professionals break ADLs into six basic categories, and by assessing whether or not someone is capable of performing these activities on their own, you can more easily gauge their independence.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living

There are also things called instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). Although IADLs are important to be able to live independently, they aren’t necessarily required activities on a daily basis. However, they can help determine with greater detail the level of assistance required by a senior. Most health care professionals break IADLs into seven basic categories.

It’s harder to notice a loss of functioning with assessing instrumental activities, but the functional ability for IADLs is generally lost prior to ADLs. Knowing the IADLs can help determine with greater detail the level of assistance required your loved one.

Why the ADLs and IADLs Are Important

You don’t need to go home immediately and asses your parents’ ability to wash the dishes or rifle through their fridge the next time you’re home to see if there is yogurt that is long past its use-by date.

That being said, the six activities of daily living and the seven instrumental activities of daily living can be helpful in assessing whether your parents can or should continue living on their own or if some assistance might be needed.

Here’s a closer look at the 6 ADLs and 7 IADLs



Signs It’s Time to Start the Search for Assisted Living

For many seniors, there’s a general progression for these activities. As your parents age, harder tasks, such as bathing, tend to become more and more challenging to do on their own, while feeding themselves might be one of the last ADLs they need assistance with.

Plus, what someone needs to be able to do to live or function on their own can vary from person to person, from your mom to your dad, and a person’s physical and cognitive abilities can fluctuate from one day to the next or decline incrementally over time.

So next time you’re at home or on the phone with your parents, just keep an eye out for changes in function.

For more information about when it’s time to start considering making the move into assisted living, download our eBook Signs It’s Time to Start the Search for Assisted Living.

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