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Activities of Daily Living Guide

A Caregivers Guide to Activities of Daily Living

While certain tasks may seem straightforward when you’re younger, they can become significant challenges for seniors. Harvard Health reports that two-thirds of Americans aged 65 and above require assistance with daily activities. The problem for caretakers is that it can be difficult to tell when their loved ones need more help.

Assessing your loved ones’ level of independence is crucial. Our guide on activities of daily living (ADL) is designed to educate caretakers on the necessary functions seniors must perform each day. Use this guide to learn how much assistance your loved ones need to live their best lives.

Why Activities of Daily Living Matter for Caregivers

As a caregiver, it’s important to know how much support your loved one needs throughout the day. Tracking ADLs allows you to evaluate what they need help with and the ideal level of care necessary to help them live the best life possible.

Of course, each senior’s needs can tell a different story. Some seniors may only need some slight modifications to complete activities, while others require extensive assistance for one or more essential needs. Using an ADL checklist allows caretakers to complete a thorough assessment of these activities and mark how much assistance a loved one needs for each task.

Assessing ADLs is more than just a one-time exercise. Caretakers can regularly go through checklists to evaluate ongoing changes. It can be difficult to notice small shifts in ability over time. Keeping regular logs of each ADL will help you stay on top of your loved ones’ current needs and make any necessary changes to support their ongoing needs.

What are the Activities of Daily Living

ADLs are defined as essential and routine tasks that people can perform without any assistance. The Katz Index of Independence in Activities of Daily Living breaks down these tasks into two different categories – basic ADLs and instrumental ADLs.

Basic ADLs

Basic ADLs break down the various skills needed for someone to manage their own physical needs. The Katz Index lists the following skills as Basic ADLs:

  • Ambulating: Can the senior walk or move from one position to another on their own?
  • Feeding: Can the senior feed themself?
  • Dressing: Can the senior pick out appropriate clothes and put them on?
  • Personal hygiene: Can the senior clean and bathe themselves in addition to maintaining proper dental hygiene, nail, and hair care?
  • Continence: Can the senior control their bladder and bowel functions?
  • Toileting: Is the senior able to get to and from the toilet, use it appropriately, and clean themself?

Instrumental ADLs

Instrumental ADLs are more complex skills that require additional planning, organization, and problem solving. While not as basic as other skills, instrumental ADLs are still key functions that seniors need to complete in order to enjoy life independently. These skills include:

  • Food preparation: Can the senior plan, prepare, and cook meals for themselves and clean up after they’re done?
  • Managing medications: Can the senior get their medicine and take the correct doses at the correct time?
  • Shopping: Is the senior able to shop for necessities, such as groceries?
  • Communication: Can the senior use a telephone, read and send mail, and use the internet and email without potential problems?
  • Managing finances: Can the senior properly handle their money, such as monitoring their expenses and paying bills?
  • Housekeeping: Can the senior keep their home clean, including washing dishes or cleaning floors?
  • Transportation: Can the senior drive, arrange for transportation, or use public transportation?
  • Laundry: Is the senior able to wash and dry their clothes?

How to Assess Seniors for ADLs

Assessing your loved one for ADLs can be difficult, especially if you’ve never been a caretaker for someone in the past. Fortunately, a good ADL checklist can help you evaluate your loved ones over time to see how their needs have changed and make informed decisions about their future. Here are some other tips to make assessing ADLs an easier process:

  • Be flexible when assessing: Allow for more nuance when assessing ADLs. Keep track if your loved one needs some help, can sometimes do the task, or requires moderate help. Assess on a scale rather than just a yes or no answer. 
  • Ask other people: You don’t have to assess loved ones alone. See what other family members, friends, or neighbors think to help form a consensus.
  • Consider health and fatigue: Sometimes an ADL is harder for a senior because they’re sick or tired. Try and assess them at full health to truly judge their abilities.
  • Be patient: Assessing ADLs can take time. Make sure to be thorough and don’t mistake someone being slow for being unable to do something.
  • Be consistent: Try to keep a regular schedule for assessing ADLs so that you can keep better track of changes over time.

Download Our Activities of Daily Living Checklist

Now that you have more of an understanding of how tracking ADLs works, it’s time to start assessing your loved ones’ current needs. Download our ADL checklist to keep track of how much help your loved one needs for various activities. 

What to Do If Your Loved One Needs More Support with Activities of Daily Living

Tracking ADLs is a big step in assessing your loved ones’ needs, but it’s only part of the caretaking process. It’s important to take the information you’ve gathered to figure out what should be done to help your loved ones live their best lives possible.

Maintain and improve independence at home

Many seniors choose to spend their golden years at home, but it’s important to make sure that living there is a viable solution. Depending on your loved one’s needs with ADLs, you may be able to help them age in place. Try: 

  • Using assistive devices: A little support from assistive tools can go a long way for seniors. Walkers, canes, and other devices can give your loved ones the boost they need to remain independent.
  • Making home modifications: Sometimes a few changes can make regular activities a lot more manageable for seniors. Adding handrails, grab bars, and other home modifications can help your loved one live more independently.
  • Addressing hazards at home: Even without home modifications, there are plenty of potential safety issues that can pose problems for seniors. Use a home safety checklist to identify issues and make each room a safer space.
  • Improving physical wellbeing: If your loved one struggles with strength or balance, try adding some new exercises to your loved ones’ daily routine. Regular physical activity can restore the strength and stamina needed to complete certain ADLs.
  • Seeking physical or occupational therapy: Old injuries and general aging can make it harder to support oneself. A therapist can help seniors restore physical functions over time that make independent living a lot easier.
  • Considering in-home care: Sometimes your loved one may need professional help to remain as self-sufficient as possible in their own home. For example, we offer private duty caregivers and home health care services for seniors in and around Central Ohio, so services like these can ensure that your loved ones have the support they need when you can’t be there.

Consider senior living

At some point, living at home can be too big of a burden. What used to be simple tasks like navigating stairs and doing laundry can become major hurdles for better living. When daily tasks feel like big burdens, it may be time to consider moving your loved one into a senior living community.

There are different types of senior living options available. If your loved one requires ongoing assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) or other medical care services, assisted living will likely be the best fit for their needs. Of course, making this transition can be complicated. Here are some resources to help you determine the right community for your loved one and how to navigate the transition process:

Looking for Senior Living Communities Near You?

National Church Residences is here to help. We’ve offered quality senior housing in comfortable retirement communities since 1961 and own or operate more than 340 senior housing communities in 25 states. We can help you find a community where your loved one can live a vibrant, healthy, and independent life.
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