What are Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?

29 Nov, 2016

What are Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?

What are Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?

A few years ago I received a call from a family asking if I could meet them at their parents’ home. Upon arriving at the home I was greeted by the family.  They invited me in and we all sat down to talk.  The conversation quickly turned from cordial and friendly to a more frustrated tone.  The kids had been visiting from out of town and, after spending some time with their parents, they felt uneasy about them being left alone in their home.

This was the reason for my invite into their home–they wanted a professional’s opinion of the situation.  As I looked around at the home and listened to both the parents and the kids, I began to realize the true issue.  The root of the problem became more and more clear to me.  It was not that they needed help;  they all knew that.  The issue was that the parents were losing some of their independence by asking for help.

I began to talk to them about their situation as well as evaluate their home.  They politely listened as I explained that their health was causing them to lose their independence.  I explained how having additional help with tasks around the house and help with their ADLs would actually help them to be independent once again.  After I was done talking me, they thanked me and then almost all at once they asked “What are ADLs (activities of daily living)?”

Two Types of Activities of Daily Living

The functional activities that we perform are divided into two different categories: activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). ADLs are common self-care activities that involve caring for and moving the body.  Examples include the following:

  • Bathing
  • Toileting
  • Grooming
  • Dressing
  • Walking
  • Eating

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) are complex skills that are necessary for a person to live independently.  They are not necessary for a person’s basic health but are necessary if they would like to function independently in a community.  These include the following:

  • Preparing meals
  • Performing housework
  • Managing money
  • Taking medications as prescribed
  • Shopping
  • Using the telephone
  • Managing transportation

IADL’s & Dementia

Difficulties with IADLs are commonly seen in patients with early onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  This can often become a dangerous situation for the individual and those around them. For example, someone may forget to turn off the stove when cooking or become forgetful of the rules of the road when driving.

Having conversations with your loved one about these tasks may prove to be very difficult especially when it is a child speaking to their parent. If needed, include your loved one’s primary healthcare provider in these conversations to speak about available resources to help the situation. Caregivers are often contacted to help with safely preparing meals, performing routine housework, and even taking the person shopping for household items or groceries. This allows the individual to maintain their independence while also ensuring safety as well.


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