Caring for an aging loved one can be immensely rewarding, especially when it allows you to give back to someone who has given a lot to you. However, it can also be stressful. One of the most common challenges caregivers face is determining whether their loved one needs to move to a more supportive setting.
Activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) are the basic activities of daily self-care and well-being. They’re key to living independently, so monitoring changes in these activities is one of the best ways to assess whether your loved one is thriving in their current home.
Many families worry that transitioning to community living will undermine their loved one’s quality of life. In truth, many residents tell us they wish they had moved sooner. The right support — coupled with a social, vibrant, and engaging setting — can help your loved one live healthier and maintain their independence. Challenges with IADLs and ADLs can affect your loved one’s quality of life.
So what are activities of daily living, and how can they help you and your loved one decide on next steps?
What Are Activities of Daily Living (ADL)?
Activities of daily living are the basic physical activities of daily self-care. They’re the things almost everyone needs to do daily. A decline in these activities usually marks a significant cognitive or physical decline. Difficulties with these activities can steadily erode independence and well-being. For example, if your loved one cannot easily get out of bed, they could develop physical ailments related to immobility. If getting dressed becomes a challenge, they may avoid socializing with friends and family.
The main activities of daily living include:
- Grooming tasks such as trimming nails, brushing teeth, or combing hair.
- Bathing, including getting in and out of the tub or shower and properly cleaning oneself.
- Moving around, including getting into and out of bed.
- Dressing oneself, including both the act of putting on clothes and selecting clean and seasonally and culturally appropriate clothing.
- Eating, including swallowing, chewing, and feeding oneself.
What Are Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL)?
If your loved one has a chronic medical condition, you’ll likely see a decline in instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) first. Issues with these activities often foreshadow difficulties with ADLs. IADLs are more complex, multi-step processes that are not necessarily vital for daily health and well-being. However, people who cannot complete these activities usually cannot live independently. Issues with IADLs can affect your loved one’s finances, health, and sense of self-efficacy.
- Housekeeping, including basic cleaning and keeping up with laundry and dishes.
- Home-maintenance tasks, whether performing them oneself or outsourcing them to appropriate providers.
- Food preparation, including meal planning, shopping, and cooking.
- Managing personal finances, including paying bills, spending and saving appropriately, and planning for the future.
How IADLs and ADLs Can Help You Assess Your Loved One’s Needs
A diagnosis doesn’t tell you much about an individual. For example, people with dementia can sometimes live independently for years, whereas people with no specific diagnosis might struggle. IADLs and ADLs offer useful, actionable information about how independently your loved one is living. Issues in either category can help you identify specific needs, empowering you to better support your loved one.
When a loved one begins to experience difficulty with ADLs or IADLS, they may not share it with you. This could be because of embarrassment or shame, fears about losing their quality of life, or ongoing family conflicts. It can also be because cognitive decline makes it difficult for your loved one to notice the changes.
Rather than waiting for your loved one to ask for help, consider looking for the following signs:
- They are losing or gaining weight.
- Their refrigerator is empty.
- Their quality of housekeeping has dramatically declined.
- Their level of self-care has changed. Maybe your perennially glamorous mother no longer wears makeup or does her hair, or your dad has stopped shaving or begun wearing dirty clothes.
- Their way of living has dramatically changed. For example, someone who once loved cooking no longer prepares any meals, or a meticulous housekeeper now lives amid clutter.
- They are not tending to their health issues. For example, they have untreated sores or are not taking prescribed medication.
- They are more secretive about their life or routine. You might not be allowed into the house, or your loved one may try to stop you from getting food out of the fridge.
Your family member deserves support at every stage of the aging journey. In-home assistance can lighten the load, reduce caregiver burden, and help your loved one remain independent as long as possible. The right senior living option does more than just fill in ADL and IADL gaps; it enriches your loved one’s life with a jam-packed calendar, meaningful socialization, and delicious food. Rather than undermining your loved one’s independence, the right senior living option supports it, helping the person you love live life on their own terms.
Not sure about your next step? Take this five-minute assessment to explore whether it’s time to get help.