Oct 10, 2022

What are Activities of Daily Living or ADLs and why are they important?

Manny Cominsky

If you or a loved one are either currently paying for senior housing or thinking about one day making the move to a senior or retirement community, then you have probably come across the term Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs. Activities of Daily Living are a common term used by medical and senior care professionals to describe the basic activities required for individuals to maintain adequate self care. ADLs are important as they are often the metrics used by healthcare professionals, as well as individuals and their loved ones, to determine whether someone is ready for some form of senior living, even if that means moving to a non-care based independent living community. If you’ve noticed that you or a loved one are struggling with any of the ADLs described in this blog post, it may be time to think about whether at-home or community-based care or living is appropriate. 

What is an ADL?

The concept of Activities of Daily Living was first introduced by pioneering American physician Sidney Katz, who made many contributions to geriratirc and senior care over a decades-long medical career. Dr. Katz first developed the idea of ADL’s while researching how different treatments could affect different patient outcomes for a group who had suffered hip fractures. In studying this group, Dr. Katz and his team found that the most independent patients were able to perform a specific range of basic activities, and used these activities as the basis of what today is known as the Activities of Daily Living. Since their first publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1963, the ADLs have become a cornerstone of senior care. 

If you cannot accomplish all the major ADLs, it may be time to look into at-home or community-based senior care.

So what exactly are these activities? According to the Katz Index of Independence in Activities of Daily Living, the most important six skills of daily living are: (1) bathing and showering, which includes basic hygiene like brushing your teeth or combing your hair; (2) continence and bladder control; (3) the ability do dress yourself appropriately and independently; (4) basic mobility, such as being able to get out of bed; (5) the act of feeding oneself (separate from preparing food); and (6) the ability to use the toilet independently. If you or a loved one are struggling with any one (or more) of these ADLs, then it may be time to think about receiving at-home care or moving to a senior community setting.

What is an IADL?

In addition to ADLs you may also see the term IADL, which stands for Instrumental Activities of Daily Living. Like ADLs, IADLs are meant to help assess whether an individual has the ability to successfully live independently, or may otherwise require some amount of care or assistance. While IADLs are generally not necessary to live a functional life by yourself, they are considered incredibly important in improving one’s quality of life. Accordingly, while inability to perform various ADLs may be a clear sign of an individual needing daily care or moving into a senior living facility, inability to perform IADLs may require less care or intervention. As you can probably imagine from the title, IADLs assess a slightly more complex set of behaviors than ADLs. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living can include activities like cooking, navigating transportation, or managing your own finances. 

Why are ADLs important?

Learning about ADLs is incredibly important for several reasons. The first is that being familiar with all of the ADLs will allow you to recognize whether you or a loved one is starting to struggle with basic daily activities, and therefore in need of some form of daily assistance or care. If you notice that something that used to be simple like bathing and showering or dressing yourself has become more difficult, it is important to recognize that it may be a signal that it is time for you to receive some form of care. Keeping a check list of the primary ADLs can help make sure you are tracking all of the things needed to live independently.

A medical professional or senior health expert can help evaluate whether you can accomplish all major ADLs.

Along with being an important means of diagnosing either your own or a loved one’s ability to handle daily care and hygiene requirements, it’s important to learn about ADLs as they are sure to pop up again and again as you research, move into, and pay for senior living or senior care. For example, many insurance and government benefit plans that cover seniors will require some showing that the individual can no longer perform some subset of ADLs before they are deemed eligible for coverage. Oftentimes, this evaluation will take place with a medical professional who is trained in recognizing when someone can no longer adequately perform their ADLs. If you wind up having insurance or government programs helping fund either part or all of your senior care, you are likely to come in contact with the concept of ADLs. Learning what ADLs are and why they’re important will only help you better navigate these interactions.

How do I assess my ADLs?

It’s never a bad idea to do an assessment of your own or a loved one’s ADLs, even if you haven’t been considering any form of senior care or senior housing. Perhaps the easiest and most efficient way to test your ADLs is to administer a self-assessment. An easy way to do so is to take the six ADLs we listed above, and walk through each one asking whether or not you can accomplish that activity each day without assistance. While a self-assessment is a great way to check your ADLs, an official ADL assessment will likely have to come from a trained medical professional or elder care expert if you are having your ADLs assessed in conjunction with receiving government or insurance benefits.

If you want to learn more about how Sunbound can help make senior living more affordable for you or your loved one, send us an email at info@sunboundhomes.com or check out our FAQ page to learn more. Sunbound is the best way to pay for senior living and is on a mission to make senior living affordable for everyone. 

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