Defining Activities Of Daily Living: ADL For Seniors

“Would You Prefer To Stay In Your Current Home As You Age?”

For most Americans age 50 and older – 76% of them, according to a 2018 AARP survey – the answer to this question is an overwhelming and easy “yes.” While wanting to age in place may be an easy decision, making it a reality may lead to more difficult questions. For example:

  • Do I need to remodel my home, and what modifications should I make?
  • Do I need to bring in someone to help me at home, like a family member or professional caregiver?
  • Am I healthy enough – physically and cognitively – to continue living well independently?

To answer these questions and determine the best way to continue thriving at home for as long as possible, it is important to be able to evaluate your abilities and needs – now and in the future. And the easiest way to begin is to become familiar with the common “activities of daily living” or ADL for seniors.

Defining ADL For Seniors

First coined by Sydney Katz in 1950, “activities of daily living” is a term widely used by healthcare providers and senior care professionals to describe an older adult’s ability to perform fundamental skills that are required to care for her- or himself independently. The basic ADL for seniors include these six categories:

  • Ambulating: How well are you able to walk independently and move from one position to another?
  • Feeding: How well are you able to feed yourself?
  • Dressing: How well are you able to select clothing and dress yourself?
  • Personal hygiene: How well are you able to bathe and groom yourself, and care for your teeth, nails and hair?
  • Continence: Do you have any difficulty controlling your bladder or bowel function?
  • Toileting: Are you able to get to and from the restroom successfully?

There are also six “instrumental activities of daily living: or IADL for seniors, which expand upon the basic activities to include more complex thinking skills:

  • Transportation: Are you able to drive or organize travel when necessary for shopping, attending events or appointments? 
  • Managing finances: How well are you able to pay bills and manage your financial assets?
  • Shopping and meal preparation: How well are you able to obtain groceries and other essential items, and do everything required to prepare a meal?
  • Housecleaning and home maintenance: Is your home kept reasonably clean and tidy and can you keep up with basic home maintenance?
  • Managing communication with others: Are you able to communicate with others by telephone, computer and mail?
  • Managing medications: How well are you able to obtain your medications and take them as directed?

Breaking Down ADL For Seniors

Answering each of these questions honestly for yourself and with input from your physicians and others who know you well – can be extremely helpful in determining what changes or modifications can be made to help maintain your independence. And if you do need outside support, this assessment will also help determine what level of support is best. For example, challenges involving IADL for seniors may be solved with occasional help from a family member or neighbor, a meal delivery service, housekeeper, or ride service app. But challenges involving basic ADL for seniors may require more hands-on support from a home caregiver, and possibly making changes to the layout of your home.

Even if you are in perfect health, it is a good idea to assess and record your performance on ADL for seniors and IADLs now as a baseline starting point, and then repeat periodically as you age so you can identify any changes. You should also notify your doctor whenever you notice a change in your ability to perform ADLs and IADLs, in case there is a medical explanation for the change.

Staying aware of basic and instrumental ADL for seniors, and recognizing when it is time to make changes in your own routine, will help ensure you continue to live your best life at home. If you would like help, please visit the DwellAssured 360-Degree Age In Place Home Assessment to find the solutions and guidance you need to thrive at home.


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