What are Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?

July 30, 2019

What are Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?

Activities of Daily Living or ADLs is a term used by healthcare professionals to refer to the basic self-care tasks an individual does on a day-to-day basis. These activities are fundamental in caring for oneself and maintaining independence. An individual's ability or inability to perform ADLs is often used by health professionals as a way of measuring an individual’s functional status, especially that of older adults or those with disabilities. 

Tracking the degree to which a person can perform ADLs, becomes a barometer for Long Term Care insurance companies when determining benefit payments. Typically, the requirement to open a claim is the deficiency in two of the six ADLs or a diagnosis of dementia. Similarly, assisted living residences will use an assessment tool to gauge an individual’s need, and resultant level of care provided. Home care agencies will also rely on an assessment to understand what qualifications and training are needed for the person sent to the clients home.

ADLs are self-care activities routinely performed which include, but are not limited to:

  • Functional mobility, which includes the ability to walk and transfer in and out of a chair or bed. Essentially, it's the ability to move from one place to another as a person goes through their daily routines.
  • Personal hygiene, oral care and grooming, including skin and hair care
  • Showering and/or bathing
  • Toileting, which includes getting on/off toilet and cleaning oneself
  • Dressing, which includes selecting appropriate attire and putting it on 
  • Self-feeding

One way to look at basic ADLs is to think of them as the activities a person does when they get up in the morning preparing to leave the house and those they do regularly day in and day out.

As a person ages, ADLs slowly become more difficult to accomplish independently and gradually take more time to complete. Certain health issues, such as a stroke, or accidents, such as a fall, also affect a person’s ability to accomplish ADLs, sometimes dramatically.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living or IADLs are not essential for basic functioning; however, they enable a person to live independently within a community. They’re generally more complex than basic ADLs. Difficulty in performing any IADLs would be an early indicator of a future need for assistance, and can be useful when planning for transitions and avoiding potential health/safety crisis situations.

IADLs are made up of activities which include, but are not limited to:

  • Housekeeping, laundry and other home care chores
  • Money management
  • Meal preparation
  • Moving/changing residences
  • Shopping for groceries and other necessities
  • Medication management
  • Using the telephone or computer

Being able to perform both ADLs and IADLs is important for seniors to be able to successfully and safely live independently.

Additional information about ADLs can be found by following these links: