Personal hygiene – home caregiver with senior man in bathroomIf you have been looking into home care services for an aging loved one, you may have come across the phrase: Activities for Daily Living (ADL).

ADLs refer to any activities or tasks that are required for normal function on a daily basis.

For example, think of all the things you do after waking up in the morning, before heading off to work or whatever your daily agenda holds.

ADLs are mainly comprised of self-care tasks that are fundamental for maintaining good health and living independently.

Basic Activities of Daily Living

For people in good health, ADLs are often automatic tasks that don’t really require much thought or attention because they are part of a daily routine.

For seniors with health issues that affect mobility or cognitive function, then these daily tasks may become a little more onerous or even hopeless.

Some typical ADLs are:

  • Personal hygiene
    • Personal grooming
    • Showering and bathing
    • Dental care
    • Hair care and shaving
    • Skin and foot care
  • Basic mobility – able to get in and out of bed and maneuver around the house
  • Toileting – capable of going to the bathroom without assistance
  • Dressing – can select appropriate attire and dress independently
  • Eating – can eat and drink without assistance

ADLs can be considered as tasks that are part of your daily routine and are required to prepare for the day’s events.

These tasks and activities can become increasingly difficult with age. Cognitive impairment and limited mobility can result in simple tasks taking a long time complete, if they can be achieved at all.

For seniors struggling with ADLs, experienced and compassionate help is available. The professional caregivers at Affinity Health can assist with whatever degree of help is needed to help older adults continue to live independently at home.

In addition to ADLs, there are also a set of more involved tasks that fall under the IADL category.

What are IADLs?

IADLs are referred to as Instrumental Activities for Daily Living. These tasks and activities are similar to ADLs, but may require a higher level of function.

While ADLs are basically essential for survival and self-care, IADLs are more complex tasks that often require analytical skills, problem solving techniques, effective organization, and physical mobility.

Examples of activities that fall under the IADL umbrella, include:

  • Groceries and food prep
    • Making a practical and nutritious grocery list
    • Buying groceries
    • Bringing groceries home and putting them away
    • Preparing and cooking meals in a safe manner
  • Household chores
    • Keeping the house clean and tidy
    • Dishes
    • Laundry
    • Sweeping, mopping, vacuuming
  • Medication management
    • Following medication instructions as prescribed
    • Taking proper dosage with correct administration
    • Making sure all medications are up to date and compatible with each other
  • Communication
    • Using telephone, computer, or other devices to communicate with friends and family
  • Transportation and getting around
    • Able to navigate the neighborhood on foot, in a car, or by public transit
  • Finances
    • Taking care of bills and banking
    • Managing income vs. expenses

These higher level tasks can be burdensome for seniors with mobility and strength issues. Older adults with early onset dementia or other cognitive issues may also have trouble completing these tasks unaided.

Expert assistance is also available for IADLs. Caregivers can help, not only with the tasks themselves, but also with establishing effective routines to maintain an independent lifestyle.

How to Assess ADL Levels for Seniors

One useful assessment tool for measuring the ability to carry out activities for daily living is the Katz Index of Independence in Activities for Independent Living.

The Katz index examines 6 basic ADLs that can provide an overall picture of seniors’ abilities to handle daily tasks.

The 6 elements being assessed are:

  • Feeding
  • Dressing
  • Bathing
  • Toileting
  • Continence
  • Transferring

Each of these activities is assigned a score of either 1 or 0, depending on ability to complete them independently.


1 point – can eat a meal without assistance (not including preparation)

0 points – cannot deliver food to mouth without help


1 point – can pick out appropriate attire, take it out of closets or drawers, and get dressed unattended

0 points – not able to pick out suitable clothing, or put it on themselves


1 point – able to get in and out of the shower or bath and clean themselves without help

0 points – requires assistance with bathing, and has difficulty getting in and out of the tub or shower


1 point – can get on and off the toilet without help

0 points – needs help using the toilet, or uses a bedpan, chamber pot, or commode


1 point – has good control over bowels and bladder

0 points – moderately or entirely incontinent


1 point – able to move from a bed of chair independently

0 points – needs help getting up from a chair or out of bed

A perfect score of 6 means independent living is not in immediate jeopardy. For scores under 5, it may be time to think about arranging some caregiver assistance.