Activities and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living

Page Reviewed / Updated - Dec. 2013


What are the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?

 The Activities of Daily Living 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.

1. Personal hygiene - bathing, grooming and oral care
2. Dressing - the ability to make appropriate clothing decisions and physically dress oneself
3. Eating - the ability to feed oneself though not necessarily to prepare food
4. Maintaining continence - both the mental and physical ability to use a restroom
5. Transferring - moving oneself from seated to standing and get in and out of bed

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.


What are the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)?

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 and can help more finely determine the level of assistance required by an elderly or disabled person. The IADLs include:

1. Basic communication skills - such as using a telephone
2. Transportation - either by driving, arranging rides or the ability to use public transportation
3. Meal preparation - meal planning, preparation and the ability to safely use kitchen equipment
4. Shopping - the ability to make appropriate food and clothing purchase decisions
5. Housework - doing laundry and cleaning dishes
6. Managing medications - taking accurate dosages at appropriate times and managing re-fills
7. Managing personal finances - operating within a budget, writing checks, paying bills and avoiding scams


Why are the ADLs and IADLs Important?

Many eldercare financial assistance programs use the inability to perform a certain number of the activities of daily living as an eligibility criteria.

Measuring an individual’s ability to perform the ADLs and IADLs 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 non-Medicaid programs such as California’s In-Home Supportive Services and New York’s EISEP Program use an inability to perform 2-3 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.


Activities of Daily Living Checklist and the AARP developed the following worksheet as a tool to help families determine with which ADLs and IADLs their loved ones require assistance and how much assistance is needed.

ADLs / IADLs Requires No
Oral Care        
Climbing Stairs        
Managing Medications        
Uses the Phone        
Managing Finances        
Passive Supervision (to prevent wandering or self-injury)        



Other ADL and IADL Scales

There are other related ADL measurements scales and tests. Two of which provide point scoring systems to help families to determine the types of and extent of care necessary. One can learn more about these at the following links.

Lawton IADL
Katz ADL Scale