Last Updated: March 19, 2024

As our relatives age, maintaining their independence and quality of life becomes a top priority. But how do you determine if your senior loved ones are able to continue living independently?

In this article, we will explore how to measure senior independence through the lens of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). The ability to perform ADLs independently often serves as an indicator of a person’s overall health and their need for assistance or care. Understanding how to assess and support older adults in their daily routines is crucial for ensuring their well-being and helping them lead fulfilling lives.

What are Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?

older woman getting hair combed by nurse

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are the fundamental, routine tasks that individuals typically perform in their daily lives to maintain personal care and physical well-being. The six basic ADLs are:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Grooming
  • Eating
  • Toileting
  • Transferring or moving from one location to another (e.g., from the bed to a chair)

These activities are often the building blocks of personal independence and are crucial for an individual’s basic self-sufficiency.

What are Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)?

older couple grocery shopping

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are a set of more complex tasks that are essential for living independently. IADLs encompass activities that involve functioning effectively within the community and managing one’s daily life. Common IADLs include:

  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Managing finances
  • Grocery shopping
  • Managing medications

The ability to handle these tasks independently can provide insights into an individual’s capability to remain self-sufficient and engaged in their community. Managing IADLs requires more complex thinking skills, so it is common for these activities to be affected if a senior is having difficulty with memory or cognitive function.

What is the Difference Between ADLs and IADLs?

adls vs iadls comparison chart

Credit: Florida Senior Consulting

ADLs and IADLs are both important measures of someone’s independence. But they differ slightly.

The primary difference between Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) lies in the nature and complexity of the tasks they encompass.

ADLs are centered on a person’s ability to maintain essential self-care and personal hygiene. IADLs include more complex activities related to managing one’s household, paying bills, community involvement, shopping, and meal preparation. Both sets of activities are critical for assessing a senior’s functional independence and are used to determine the level of assistance or care they may need.

Why are ADLs and IADLs important for caregivers and medical professionals?

nurse helping man lift weights

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are important for professional or family caregivers and healthcare professionals. Assessing an older adult’s physical and mental capabilities to perform ADLs and IADLs provides critical insights into their level of functional independence and their specific needs.

ADLs offer a window into a senior’s ability to manage essential self-care tasks, enabling them to tailor care plans to address deficits and provide appropriate support.

Similarly, IADLs offer a broader perspective, assessing an individual’s ability to live independently within their community.

Occupational therapists and physical therapists often assess ADLs and IADLs so they can provide treatment for a senior to recover the function of–or compensate for–a certain activity of daily living.

Recognizing a person’s strengths and challenges in these areas is fundamental to creating comprehensive, personalized care plans for seniors. Identifying older adults’ specific daily living needs improves the overall experience for both the caregiver and the care recipient.

When to Assess ADLs and IADLs

nurse helping woman comb hair

Assessing Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living is a dynamic process that should be carried out at various key junctures in the lives of older adults.

Initial assessments are often conducted when someone’s health status changes significantly, such as if they experience an illness, injury, or disability.

Regular assessments are also essential for seniors to monitor their functional abilities over time and to adjust care plans accordingly.

Routine assessments are particularly important for caregivers and healthcare professionals, enabling them to provide timely support and interventions as needed to ensure seniors can maintain their independence and quality of life.

How to Assess ADLs and IADLs

Assessing Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living involves systematic evaluation of an individual’s ability to perform these tasks independently. Assessment typically includes direct observation, interviews with the individual and their caregivers, and sometimes the use of standardized assessment tools.

For ADLs, a professional or family caregiver may observe and inquire about the person’s ability to perform the six major activities of daily living: bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, grooming, and transferring.

For IADLs, a family member or professional can ask questions about tasks such as meal preparation, housekeeping, and transportation to gauge independence.

Standardized scales, like the Katz ADL Scale for basic activities or the Lawton-Brody IADL Scale for instrumental activities, can provide a structured framework for assessment.

You can also use Florida Senior Consulting’s simple ADLs and IADLs checklist to assess your loved ones’ abilities.

The goal of these assessments is to gain a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s capability to live independently. Furthermore, assessments help caregivers identify areas with which older adults require assistance, and tailor care plans accordingly to support their functional independence and overall well-being.

How ADLs and IADLs Affect the Senior Living Process

nurse helping man in his house

When considering the transition of a senior to a senior living community, assessing their ability to perform ADLs and IADLs becomes crucial.

This assessment helps determine the most suitable senior living environment, whether it is independent living, assisted living, memory care, or a skilled nursing facility.

Assisted living communities often assist with IADLs like medication management, meals, and housekeeping. Some assisted living facilities offer additional ADL assistance for an added cost. Memory care communities may also include ADL support.

To accurately determine a potential resident’s needs, most communities request ADL and IADL assessments as part of their evaluation process.

In Summary

The assessment and understanding of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) hold a profound significance in safeguarding and enhancing the independence of seniors.

These assessments provide a roadmap for tailoring care and support to meet their specific needs, ensuring they can continue to lead fulfilling lives while maintaining their dignity and autonomy. Recognizing and addressing challenges in ADLs and IADLs not only empowers seniors to age with dignity but also fosters a sense of self-worth and well-being.

By focusing on these essential daily tasks, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and families can play a pivotal role in preserving the quality of life for our older loved ones and, in turn, promote a more compassionate and respectful approach to aging.

What to do if Your Senior Family Member Needs Help with ADLs

daughter helping mother with medications

When a loved one requires assistance with ADLs or IADLs, sometimes it is best to enlist a professional.

Florida Senior Consulting’s team of expert senior advisors has a wealth of knowledge and experience in senior care. We help families make informed decisions about the most suitable senior living and care for their loved ones.

Get peace of mind about your loved ones’ safety and quality of life. Give us a call at (800) 969-7176 or visit

Senior living on your terms. The choice should be yours.


Click here to download our ADLs vs. IADLs checklist.

Contact Florida Senior Consulting

(800) 969-7176