A Primer on the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Cooking with a senior with dementiaThere are two groups of daily living activities: activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living.

  • The activities of daily living are basic, routine tasks, such as bathing, dressing, eating and using the toilet, that most people are able to perform on a daily basis without assistance.
  • Instrumental activities of daily living are more complex tasks that require a certain amount of physical dexterity, sound judgment and organizational skills. A senior’s ability (or inability) to adequately perform both groups of activities is usually reflective of that person’s ability to live safely and independently.

Here’s a more detailed look at the activities of daily living and the instrumental activities of daily living.

Basic Activities of Daily Living

Most senior care providers and health professionals group the activities of daily living into the following six categories:

  • Bathing: includes grooming activities such as shaving, and brushing teeth and hair
  • Dressing: choosing appropriate garments and being able to dress and undress, having no trouble with buttons, zippers or other fasteners
  • Eating: being able to feed oneself
  • Transferring: being able to walk, or, if not ambulatory, being able to transfer oneself from bed to wheelchair and back
  • Continence: being able to control one’s bowels and bladder, or manage one’s incontinence independently
  • Toileting: being able to use the toilet

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living

The instrumental activities of daily living include the following:

  • Using the telephone: being able to dial numbers, look up numbers, etc.
  • Managing medications: taking the appropriate medications and correct dosages on time
  • Preparing meals: making appropriate food choices and preparing meals safely
  • Maintaining the home: doing or arranging for housekeeping and laundry
  • Managing finances: budgeting, paying mortgage/rent and bills on time, etc.
  • Shopping: being able to shop for groceries and other small necessities, and transport purchases from store to home
  • Using transportation: being able to drive or use public transportation for appointments, shopping, etc.

When searching for long-term care options for your parents or other loved ones, you should be familiar with the term activities of daily living. Why? Senior care providers use both the activities of daily living and the instrumental activities of daily living as a baseline to create service or care plans, determine levels of care and set costs for care. As a senior’s need for assistance increases, so does the cost of the care and services provided (and sometimes the coverage, depending on the senior’s insurance).

Written by senior housing writer Nikki Jong.