What are ADLs? An Introduction to Activities of Daily Living

December 7, 2023

nurse helping woman put on her sweaterActivities of daily living (ADLs) refer to the essential tasks that people need to perform every day to maintain their health and well-being. This includes basic tasks such as eating and personal hygiene but can also extend to domestic and social activities, such as cooking, cleaning, and socializing.

ADLs are of utmost importance to occupational therapists, nurses and caregivers, as they help them to assess an individual's ability to live independently and provide necessary support where needed. In this article, we will discuss the six primary ADLs, why they are essential, and how they can help individuals, especially those in assisted living, who need assistance with daily care activities.

ADLs vs IADLs 

ADLs refer to basic personal care tasks necessary for functional living. The six primary categories are ambulating, feeding, dressing, personal hygiene, continence, and toileting. Older adults, individuals with physical disabilities, or those with chronic conditions may require assistance with ADLs from family members or caregivers.  

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) refer to tasks beyond basic personal care that allow an individual to live independently. These tasks include transportation, shopping, managing finances, cooking, cleaning, medication management, and interpersonal communication.  

The Role of ADLs in Long-Term Care

The inability to perform ADLs is one of the primary reasons why individuals require long-term care. The inability to carry out basic home care tasks can make them dependent on others for care, which can lead to numerous problems, such as a loss of dignity, reduced quality of life and self-esteem, and social isolation. Without proper assistance and care, individuals can also become malnourished, dehydrated, or develop bedsores that can lead to infections.

ADL and IADL Assessment

Occupational therapists are often responsible for assessing ADLs and IADLs, determining an individual's level of functionality. To do this, they use an ADL index—such as the Katz Index of Independence—which includes a questionnaire to assess basic ADL tasks. Additional tools may be used to assess.  

To assess IADLS, the Lawton Instrumental Activities of Daily Living Scale is commonly used, which measures an individual’s ability to perform tasks such as preparing meals, housekeeping, paying bills, and shopping.  

The score from the IADL assessment categorizes the individuals into several categories, indicating their level of functionality, from low function (dependent) to high function (independent). Medical professionals use the results of these assessments to create care plans that address each individual's unique needs.

Aids for Daily Living

In addition to working with a healthcare professional, there are many tools available designed to help individuals with ADLs. These tools include, but are not limited to: 

The Importance of ADLs for Health and Independence

ADLs are essential for maintaining an individual's health, well-being, and independence. The inability to perform ADLs can lead to social isolation, depression, and other mental health issues. Moreover, not being able to accomplish essential ADLs can lead to adverse health outcomes such as malnutrition, dehydration, pressure ulcers, and general unhealthiness, making it crucial to have assistance when needed.  

For those requiring assistance with their personal care tasks, it is crucial to have a comprehensive care plan that addresses their needs and includes strategies to promote their independence and enable them to participate in routine activities. If you or a family member require support or are looking for more information, consult with your healthcare provider or reach out to occupational therapists or caregivers.  


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