What are Activities of Daily Living?

May 9, 2016

If you are new to long-term care services, you may be confused and overwhelmed by all the different jargon associated with it. One very important phrase you will hear time and time again is "Activities of Daily Living" or ADLs. You're probably wondering what the heck they are, right? Well, they are just that: the basic activities of life. There are also "Instrumental Activities of Daily Living" or IADLs. We've broken them down below:


  • The Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are a series of basic activities performed by individuals on a daily basis necessary for independent living at home or in the community. There are many variations on the definition of the activities of daily living but most organizations agree there are 5 basic categories: 

    • Personal hygiene - bathing, grooming and oral care

    • Dressing - the ability to make appropriate clothing decisions and physically dress oneself

    • Eating - the ability to feed oneself though not necessarily to prepare food

    • Maintaining continence - both the mental and physical ability to use a restroom

    • Transferring - moving oneself from seated to standing and get in and out of bed


  • Instrumental Activities of Daily Living or IADLs are actions that are important to being able to live independently but are not necessarily required activities on a daily basis.  The instrumental activities are more subtle than the Activities of Daily Living. They can help determine with greater detail the level of assistance required by an elderly or disabled person. The IADLs include:

    • Basic communication skills - such as using a regular phone, mobile phone, email or the Internet

    • Transportation - either by driving oneself, arranging rides or the ability to use public transportation

    • Meal preparation - meal planning, preparation, storage and the ability to safely use kitchen equipment

    • Shopping - the ability to make appropriate food and clothing purchase decisions

    • Housework - doing laundry, cleaning dishes and maintaining a hygienic place of residence

    • Managing medications - taking accurate dosages at the appropriate times, managing re-fills and avoiding conflicts

    • Managing personal finances - operating within a budget, writing checks, paying bills and avoiding scams

Whether or not an individual is capable of performing these activities on their own or if they rely on a family caregiver to perform the ADLs serves a comparative measure of their independence.


Measuring an individual’s ability to perform the ADLs is important not just in determining the level of assistance required but as a metric for a variety of services and programs related to caring for the elderly and for those with disabilities.

  • Many state-funded, non-Medicaid programs use an inability to perform 2 or 3 activities of daily living as one of the eligibility criteria for participation in their assistance programs.

  • Medicaid often requires elderly participants to be qualified for nursing home care and nursing home care qualification can be determined by how much assistance one requires with ADLs. While Medicare doesn’t pay for custodial or personal care, which most of the ADLs are considered, Medicare PACE programs which provide all-inclusive care for the elderly do considered them a factor.

  • Long term care insurance often uses an inability to perform the ADLs as a trigger for paying out on a policy. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as well considers ADLs as a qualification factor.

New Frontier Home Care is a private-pay or long-term care insurance home care agency. If you are a loved one is in need of home care services, contact us today! We'd be happy to answer questions and find out if we are the right home care agency for you.

  • (832) 602-2282

  • info@nfhcare.com

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