What Are Activities of Daily Living?

Activities of daily living (ADLs) are routine activities people do every day without assistance. There are six basic ADLs: eating, bathing, getting dressed, toileting, mobility, and continence. The performance of these ADLs is important in determining what type of long-term care and health coverage, such as Medicare, Medicaid, or long-term care insurance, a person will need as they age.

Key Takeaways

  • Activities of daily living are basic tasks of daily life that most people are used to doing without assistance.
  • The ability to perform ADLs is used to help determine medical status for health coverage and long-term care decisions.
  • Assisted living facilities, in-home care providers, and nursing homes specialize in providing care and services to those who can not perform ADLs for themselves.

Activities of Daily Living (ADL)

Understanding Activities of Daily Living (ADL)

Over a third of Americans who turn 65—a common retirement age—will eventually enter a care facility because they are unable to perform specific ADLs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While the majority of care facility admissions will be for the short term (less than a year), about a fifth will stay longer than five years.

Being able to perform ADLs while aging is directly linked to independent living, as physicians and adult care social workers use ADLs to determine if a person needs assisted living or to be placed in a nursing home. Why are ADLs so important? Because they affect a person's ability to do housework, prepare their own meals, go shopping, drive or use public transportation, and take prescription medication. They can also leave the person prone to dangers such as falling down stairs or slipping in the shower.

6 Activities of Daily Living
1. Eating Able to feed oneself
2. Bathing Able to bath/shower, brush teeth, and groom
3. Getting Dressed Able to dress and undress
4. Mobility Able to sit, stand, and walk
5. Continence Able to control bladder and bowel functions
6. Toileting Able to get to and from the toilet and clean oneself

Typically, long-term care insurance coverage for nursing costs requires an individual who is unable to perform two or more of the six ADLs.

Special Considerations

Those who need assistance with ADLs can opt for in-home, assisted living, or nursing home care. In some cases, families can help those in need to make the decision between transitioning to an assisted-living community or opting for in-home care. In extreme cases, families may have to transition a person into a care facility without consent.

Families often hire home-health workers to provide ADL assistance when the person resides at home or in an assisted-living community and needs some, but not total care. Home-health workers help a person engage in ADLs and support independent living by helping with daily activities such as going shopping, reminding them to take the correct medication, and accompanying them on walks. Health insurance may cover some or all of the cost of hiring licensed home-health workers, depending on the person's policy, and most licensed home-health workers are state-certified nurse's aides. 

Those who transition to nursing homes do so because they can only engage in few, if any, ADLs on their own. In most situations, when an individual transfers to a nursing home, a team of physicians, nurses, and health aides supervises around-the-clock care at the facility.