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What Do ADLS and IADLS Mean?

…and Why It’s Important to Understand These Acronyms as We Age

When you or an aging loved one are in need of medical care, there are a lot of terms that are frequently used by providers that may not be fully understood by those receiving care. Two acronyms that may be important to understand as we age are ADLs and IADLs. 

ADL – Activities of Daily Living

IADL – Instrumental Activities of Daily Living

As we grow older, we gradually lose the ability to perform certain tasks and functions. ADLs and IADLs are terms used by caregivers to objectively assess a person’s ability to perform activities  related to daily living. ADL stands for Activities of Daily Living, while IADL stands for Instrumental Activities of Daily living. Identifying the loss of ADLs is an important factor when assessing care needs and support required to maintain a person’s quality of life. Here are a few examples of ADLs and IADLs. 

  • ADLs = Basic self-care tasks that are learned as young children
    • Walking
    • Feeding
    • Dressing and grooming
    • Using the toilet
    • Bathing
    • Transferring
  • IADLs = Complex thinking and organizational skills
    • Managing finances
    • Managing transportation
    • Shopping and meal preparation
    • House cleaning and home maintenance
    • Managing communications
    • Managing medications  

Fully functional adults can typically manage both ADLs and IADLs without assistance. However, if someone cannot complete one or more of these functions, then it is likely that they have an issue with their physical or cognitive health, or with their physical environment

Here are 4 common ways that ADLs and IADLs are used by non-medical caregivers, families, medical providers, and insurance companies to assess a person’s care needs. 

1. Caregivers use them to monitor and identify functional decline 

These terms are used and measured by caregivers, both medical and non-medical, on an ongoing basis to monitor and identify functional difficulties exhibited by older adults to ensure they get the help and support they need. In the instance of non-medical care, caregivers can escalate communications regarding variations in function to a person’s medical care team, who can then intervene by ordering medical equipment, making referrals, or changing the care plan to accommodate an individual’s changing or declining functions. 

2. Family members and caregivers use them to decide when more help is needed 

While used by home health or personal caregivers to assess functions, they can also be used by family members to proactively determine when their loved one may need help at home. They are instrumental in identifying whether the loss of function is related to a decline in health or challenges in a person’s environment. Environmental concerns are often easily addressed, adding a shower chair, for example, for someone who has trouble bathing.

 3. Insurance policies use them to determine eligibility

Many long-term care insurance policies use ADLs and IADLs to gauge loss of function to various degrees, which serve as triggers to determine eligibility for long-term care insurance coverage. It’s beneficial for family members to be familiar with ADLs and IADLs and their relationship to a long-term care plan’s eligibility requirements. This ensures that their loved ones can receive benefits as soon as they are eligible and get the care and support they need. 

4. Therapists use them to meet health goals

After a health event or hospitalization, therapists, including medical providers, such as occupational, physical, and speech therapists, will set goals and work with an individual to achieve these goals. While health needs and goals vary from person to person, it is common for providers and therapists to frame them through the lens of ADLs and IADLs. Here are a few examples of common goals:

  • Drive on their own for up to an hour
  • Walk comfortably for 10 minutes with a cane or walking device
  • Shop for groceries by themselves twice per week
  • Perform all bathroom functions by themselves (bathing, using the toilet, shaving)

Knowing a person’s ability to complete basic tasks essential for daily living is very important for individuals, family members, and care providers to understand to identify signs that a person’s condition or environment may be changing. Maintaining the optimal quality of life requires understanding these signs to provide early interventions as quickly as possible. Working closely with a person’s care provider to establish a customized care plan that considers individual needs and the ability to perform essential tasks is one of the best ways to ensure treatment continues in the right direction, even as things change.  

If you or a loved one requires personal caregiving services to assist with daily living, reach out and we will provide a free consultation and discuss your needs. Visit to view availability in your area. 

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