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Defining Terms: What Are ADLs & IADLs and Why Do They Matter?

Defining Terms: What Are ADLs & IADLs and Why Do They Matter?

Defining Terms: What Are ADLs & IADLs and Why Do They Matter?

As we age, our bodies function differently, along with our ability to do routine daily tasks. Knowing when to ask for extra help — and how much — can be difficult. That’s where ADLs come in.

What does ADL stand for? Activities of Daily Living! Keep reading to discover what ADLs are and why they are essential for maintaining our independence as we age.

What Are ADLs?

ADLs are daily tasks the average person can perform without any help. Health professionals and senior living providers usually group these into a few different categories:

  • Dressing
    • Dressing and undressing, choosing the right clothing for the weather, and managing buttons, zippers, and other fasteners.
  • Eating
    • Feeding oneself (does not include cooking.)
  • Bathing/Showering
    • Grooming tasks like saving, brushing teeth, and styling hair.
  • Continence
    • Controlling bowels and bladder or managing incontinence without help.
  • Toileting
    • Getting to and using the toilet without help.
  • Transferring
    • Functional mobility, walking, getting in and out of bed, and into and out of a chair. Includes moving from a bed to a wheelchair without help.

What Are IADLs and How Are They Different From ADLs?

IADLs, or Instrumental Activities of Daily Life, require more complicated thinking skills, varying amounts of physical dexterity, organizational skills, and sound judgment. They may not be vital for basic function, but they are still important for living independently. Here are some examples of IADLs:

  • Shopping and meal preparation: Getting meals on the table and shopping for daily necessities.
  • House cleaning and home maintenance: Cleaning up after meals, keeping living areas clean and uncluttered, and general home maintenance.
  • Managing medications: Obtaining and taking medications as directed.
  • Managing finances: Paying bills and managing financial assets.
  • Managing transportation: Driving or obtaining other means of transport.
  • Managing communication: Handling telephone calls and mail.

IADLs are often affected when we have difficulty with memory or cognition. They will often be affected before ADLs in those living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. About ten years after ADLs were defined, a psychologist named M.P. Lawton created the “Lawton Instrumental Activities of Daily Living Scale.” He wanted to describe the skills required to maintain independence more comprehensively, as he believed difficulty with these more complex tasks can be as disruptive to daily life as difficulty with ADLs.

How To Determine If You Need Help with ADLs and IADLs

A reduction in the ability to perform ADLs can happen so gradually that it may be difficult to notice — we know that we need a little more help as we get older and aren’t able to do quite as much on our own as we used to. That’s why having a healthcare provider or senior living specialist evaluate the need for ADL assistance is valuable. They can perform a functional assessment using a checklist including the items above. Difficulty performing two or three tasks during a functional assessment typically indicates some help could be useful.

Why Are ADLs and IADLs Important?

More than just understanding our level of need, an ADL evaluation can be helpful in other ways. For example, non-Medicaid assistance programs in some states consider ADL assessments to determine whether someone qualifies for participation. 

Most ADLs are considered custodial or personal care, which isn’t covered by Medicare. However, Medicare PACE programs that provide all-inclusive care consider them a factor. Some Medicare Advantage plans have also begun taking ADL assessments into consideration.

In addition, long-term care insurance often uses functional assessments as a trigger for paying out on a policy, and Social Security Disability Insurance also considers them a qualification factor.

Meadowood’s Life Plan Community Can Help with ADLs and IADLs

Meadowood is proud to offer multiple residential living options to fit your lifestyle! We put an incredible amount of work into ensuring our residents have help with ADLs if needed and are supported in living an independent life in every way possible. Check our blog often to see how Meadowood residents are honing and sharing new skills with others! If you’re interested in learning more about our campus, request a brochure or schedule a visit!