The Activities of Daily Living for Seniors


As functional abilities begin to decline in older adulthood, these tasks begin to feel progressively challenging. As the senses become less sharp, we can’t afford to lose any focus from the task at hand, particularly if there’s a risk involved in making a mistake. At some point, simple tasks may take so long to complete or involve so much effort or pain that we may simply forgo them.

“Activities of Daily Living” (ADLs) are the essential tasks that are too important to skip if we are to stay healthy and comfortable. If basic human needs remain unmet, there can be dangerous consequences, and one’s quality of life is likely to suffer considerably.

Sidney Katz proposed the basic concept of ADLs in the 1950s, and the Katz ADL scale is the most frequently used checklist. The full name of this checklist is the “Katz Index of Independence in Activities of Daily Living.”

What Are ADLs Used For?

The ability to complete ADLs is a good way for medical staff to assess the current functional abilities of an individual. Shortfalls during an assessment may suggest that a caregiver is required or that a referral to a medical facility is necessary. An occupational therapist will often use the ADL checklist to identify skills that need improvement.

An ADL checklist will highlight areas where an individual will need assistance to complete personal care tasks. A person’s level of dependence is measured with a point system, whereby more accumulated points indicate high independence in the core ADLs.

If an individual requires help from assistive equipment or another person, this indicates dependence, and a point is not awarded.

When a short-term/long-term health condition or disability prevents the successful completion of a task, then again, no point is awarded. A chronic disease or condition like dementia and Parkinson’s can significantly interfere with an individual’s ability to carry out ADLs.

The main ADLs include:

  • Feeding (the ability to self-feed)
  • Functional Mobility (the ability of a person to move/walk unaided)
  • Dressing (the ability to pick out and put on suitable clothing)
  • Personal Hygiene (the ability to wash and groom oneself)
  • Continence (the ability to control bladder/bowel movements)
  • Toilet Hygiene (the ability to travel to and use the toilet hygienically)

The Instrumental Activities Of Daily Living

In addition to the most basic functional tasks required to stay healthy in life, there is a more broad second category of tasks. These cover all the chores that have a big impact on the quality of life of those who live independently.

The Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL) scale is the second most common checklist in use today. It was created in the late 1960s by M.P. Lawton and E.M. Brody.

IADLs are used by medical professionals to assess the need for help. An IADL checklist may also be used to assess the cognitive ability of a person. Because these tasks require thinking and organization skills, IADLs are a useful tool to test for the impairments associated with early dementia.

The IADL scale includes:

  • Telephone Use (making and taking calls)
  • Shopping Needs (shopping independently
  • Food Preparation (preparing and serving meals)
  • Housekeeping (maintaining the home)
  • Doing Laundry (washing clothes independently)
  • Using Transport (public transport or driving a car)
  • Medication Management (correct time and dose)
  • Managing Finances (budgeting and paying bills)

ADLs, and especially IADLs, can be difficult to directly observe in action because they may take place over a long period. When a checklist is completed by an individual self-reporting their abilities, the answers may need external validation for accuracy.

Performance-based (PB) tests of functional ability can add greater validity to self-reported ADL/IADLs. A PB balance and strength test, for example, may form part of an ADL assessment. The Erlangen Test of Activities of Daily Living in Mild Dementia (ETAM) is one example of a performance-based test for ADLs.

Senior Living in Anchorage Alaska with Baxter Senior Living, we work to ensure that our community is an extension of your loved ones family. If you are at a place in your life that you need to discuss Anchorage Assisted Living, Anchorage Memory Care, or Anchorage Respite Care please reach out today. We are happy to help answer any questions. Contact a Baxter Senior Living Representative today! 907-865-3500

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