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What are ADLs? (Activities of Daily Living)

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A female senior in the mirror in her white robe and a white towel wrapped around her head is massaging her face after she took a shower.

If you’re looking into senior living options for a loved one, you may come across terms like ADLs and IADLs that you’ve never heard before. These are categories of daily living activities that can make a significant difference in your loved one’s life, and determine whether they need to live in assisted living or memory support communities.

ADLs are the basic self-care tasks that people perform on a daily basis. It may be more difficult to do these things for ourselves as we get older, especially if we have health issues. That’s when your loved one may need support.

ADLs are used by doctors to assess how much assistance is needed. Knowing what your loved one can and cannot do for themself is a critical first step in seeking assistance. And, with the right assistance, you can help them maintain as much independence as possible.

Activities of Daily Living

The activities of daily living are a set of fundamental tasks required for independent living at home or in a community and are carried out on a daily basis. There are many different definitions of ADLs, but most organizations agree on 5 basic categories:

  • Personal Hygiene: Grooming, bathing/showering, nail care, and oral care.
  • Dressing: Being able to dress and undress oneself appropriately and safely.
  • Eating: The ability to feed oneself, but not necessarily the ability to prepare food.
  • Maintaining Continence: Being able to use the restroom both mentally and physically. This includes being able to use the toilet and clean oneself.
  • Mobility: The ability to stand from a sitting position to get in and out of bed and the ability to walk from one location to another on their own.

Using ADLs to determine your loved one’s level of independence will help you decide whether independent living, assisted living, memory care, or nursing care is best for them. ADLs are the fundamental framework for ensuring safety while living independently.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living

While ADLs are the most basic, instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) are more complex activities that require more thinking and organizational skills to help a senior live and function independently. 

IADLs include:

  • Basic communication skills: using a phone, a mobile phone, email, or the internet.
  • Transportation: driving oneself, arranging rides, or using public transportation.
  • Meal preparation: meal planning, cooking, cleaning, storing, and using kitchen equipment and utensils safely.
  • Shopping: making reasonable food and clothing purchases.
  • Housework: doing laundry, washing dishes, dusting, vacuuming, and keeping the house clean.
  • Medication management: taking the correct amount of medication at the correct time as well as managing refills.
  • Personal finance management: sticking to a budget, writing checks, paying bills, and avoiding scams.
A male senior in a laurel green colored shirt is washing the dishes, he is holding a sponge in his right hand and a white plate in his left and a female senior is standing beside him while she is drying the plate with a towel.

Why Are ADLs Important?

Tracking your loved one’s health and functional abilities will make it easier to detect struggles with ADLs. Knowing what ADLs and IADLs changes to look for will help you determine the level of care required for your loved one.

Understanding the functions of ADLs and IADLs can assist you in determining which daily activities your loved one can and can’t perform. They should ideally be physically and mentally capable of comprehending and carrying out the tasks on their own or with minimal assistance.

These capabilities evolve gradually over time. A decline in the ability to perform basic ADLs is often not apparent until later stages of physical or mental disability.

Aiding ADLs

There are tools that can assist people with their ADLs, making it easier to maintain their independence. While adaptive equipment is often very simple, it can mean the difference between living independently and needing regular assistance. 

Examples of these tools include:

  • Bed rails
  • Prescription drug organizers
  • Kitchen utensils with large handles
  • Two-handed cups
  • Shoes with velcro rather than shoelaces
  • Walkers
  • Wheelchairs
  • Shower chairs
  • Handheld shower heads
  • Grab bars in the bathroom
  • Toilet seat risers
  • Washcloth mitts

Monitoring ADLs & IADLs

Asking about ADLs is part of a routine health checkup that your loved one’s doctor will most likely perform as they get older. This health examination could take place in a doctor’s office, at your loved one’s home, or in a hospital.

The goal is to determine whether they are experiencing any issues that could intensify any health problems or make it unsafe for them to be alone. If it turns out that your loved one is no longer able to safely live alone, it may be time to consider transitioning them into an assisted living community.

If you have any questions about this transition or would like to book a tour of our community, don’t hesitate to contact the team at Serenity South Senior Living.

Written by Deborah Shane

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