Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

December 16, 2015

Active senior woman potting some plants in terracotta pots on a counter in backyard.

Activities of daily living (ADL) are the standard daily tasks that people do during their day. Knowing if a person is capable of performing the activities of daily living can let medical professionals know if people can live successfully without assistance. If an individual cannot perform daily tasks, he or she may need help in their daily life.

What decides an ADL?

While there are common events that are accepted as daily tasks, ADLs are usually decided by a variety of factors, including:

  • Who (or what organization) is tracking the ADL
  • What the circumstances of the person being tracked are
  • Environmental variables

Ultimately, ADLs are decided upon by organizations that monitor senior citizen and geriatric activity patterns, such as assisted living centers or insurance companies. These people amass a tremendous amount of data pertaining to daily activities and can figure out which ones are most common.

There are three categories for ADLs.

Basic ADLs

Basic activities of daily living (BADL) are the fundamental tasks that humans do each day. These are activities that were learned in early childhood and are continually performed throughout an adult's life. These include:

  • Eating
  • Using the bathroom
  • Dressing
  • Grooming
  • Bathing
  • Walking
  • Maintaining mobility

A great way to know if something you do is a BADL is if it happens as part of a morning or evening routine. If it is, then it is most likely a BADL.

Instrumental ADLs

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) may be tasks that improve chances of survival. However, you learned these tasks in your transitional years from child to adult. They are higher functioning activities, but are not performed by everyone. These include:

  • Shopping
  • Housekeeping
  • Accounting
  • Food preparation
  • Transportation
  • Telephone operation

(Note: An easy-to-remember acronym for the above IADLs is SHAFTT.)

Cooperative IADLs

Along with normal IADLs, there are a select amount of tasks that adults perform with the assistance of another person. These include:

  • Caring for other living things
  • Managing finances
  • Managing medicine
  • Observing holidays
  • Raising children
  • Responding to emergencies

What happens if someone I know can't do an ADL?

When you or someone you know can't perform two ADLs, consult a medical professional for options.

The ADL label was created by insurance companies to help themselves know what kind of long-term care a person may qualify for. If someone is unable to perform an ADL, then he or she may need the help of a live-in nurse, assisted living facility, or a temporary stay in a hospital to allow for healing.

Insurance begins to cover conditions when a person cannot perform two ADLs. ADLs can be used for specific conditions, but are primarily used for senior care.

What can I do to help people who can't perform certain ADLs?

Taking care of someone with ADL issues is hard. ADL care is usually left to people who are medical professionals or professional caretakers. You can do it, but understand that it will be a tremendous strain on your life and your relationships with loved ones.


Keep your loved ones involved as much as possible. While they may not be able to feed themselves, they are still people. Help them maintain as much independence as possible in the eating process.

Make them give you the order in which they want to consume the food. From there, either dice up, liquefy, or cut up any and all foods before they eat.

If a person has difficulty swallowing, make sure they rest at least 30 minutes before eating. This will give them the energy to work the muscles necessary to swallow food. Also, alternate liquids and solids to help make swallowing easier.

Using the bathroom

If mobility is an issue for using the bathroom, use a bedpan. There are two types of bedpans for this process: the classic bedpan and the "fractured" bedpan. The fractured bedpan is for those who have back or hip issues and are unable to use a bedpan that is too high.

Make sure your loved ones can roll onto one side or the other. If they cannot, ask them if you can help, then roll them over. Before using the bedpan, put down disposable towels in the area where the bedpan will be placed.

Push down on the bed and slide the bedpan underneath the waste area. When it is underneath them, have your loved ones roll back over on the bedpan. Prop them up a little bit for comfort. Also, when they begin going, make sure there is toilet paper so they can clean themselves.

When they are finished, repeat the steps in reverse. When your loved ones roll onto their sides, hold onto the bedpan and make sure it does not move too much. Sanitize the waste area using toilet paper or wipes in case they cannot get it themselves. Remove the bedpan and dump the contents into the toilet.

Maintaining mobility

If your loved ones are bedridden, make sure that they are turned every two hours. If they are not turned, bedsores can develop on the body. When they are turned, make sure their backs are propped up with pillows.

If you need to move your loved one up in bed, try to maneuver the entire bed to where the foot of it is higher than the head (This is better achieved using automatic beds). Ask the person in bed to bend at the knees and push down towards the head of the bed.

Is your loved one finding it difficult to push up in bed? You can get reduced friction sheets to help make the process easier.

Other activities such as dressing, grooming, bathing, and walking will require you to be there with your loved ones to help with the activity. It will be your job to catch them if they fall.

Have other ADL tips?

Let Heritage Creek Assisted Living know. We are eager to help any and all of our San Antonio residents get the information they need for their loved ones.

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