skip to Main Content
IADLs Vs. ADLs: Taking A Look At Activities Of Daily Living

IADLs vs. ADLs: Taking a Look at Activities of Daily Living

One way that doctors measure how well a person can live on their own is to look at how they are able to perform when it comes to the instrumental activities of daily living vs. activities of daily living that are more simplistic in nature. What does this mean?

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) take rather more planning and forethought. They are the things that you do every day to take care of yourself and your home. In contrast, activities of daily living (ADLs) are basic self-care tasks, like bathing and eating.

Why Do These Categories Matter?

Sometimes, age or illness can make it harder for a person to perform IADLs. In fact, it is often an early sign of trouble when someone is struggling with IADLs. Doctors and medical professionals use the ability to perform IADLs to determine whether a person needs additional support.

What Are Some Important IADLs?

Some of the instrumental activities of daily living vs. activities of daily living that your doctor will want to be sure you can do are:

  • Using the phone, including answering calls and making calls
  • Cleaning your house or apartment
  • Managing your money and paying your bills
  • Shopping on your own
  • Planning, cooking, and serving your own meals
  • Managing your medicines, taking them, and refilling prescriptions
  • Getting around on your own, by car, taxi, or public transportation

If you are having trouble with any of these IADLs, let your doctor know. In some cases, they may be able to provide a referral to a service that can help. Documenting an inability to perform IADLs may also qualify you to receive certain benefits, which we’ll explore in depth below.

What Are Some Important ADLs?

Activities of daily living (ADLs) are important, too. Some of the ADLs that you should keep in mind include:

  • Getting out of bed or standing up
  • Cleaning yourself after using the bathroom
  • Bathing or showering
  • Getting dressed
  • Maintaining personal hygiene, like brushing hair and teeth
  • Eating
  • Walking or climbing stairs

As you can see, when comparing instrument activities of daily living vs. activities of daily living, IADLs are more complex, while ADLs are much simpler personal activities.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living vs. Activities of Daily Living

Both IADLs and ADLs are important for a person’s daily comfort. But they are also significant for a number of reasons. IADLs help your doctor to determine if you need home help and, if so, how much.

ADLs, on the other hand, can help you to get federal funding that can assist when it comes to covering the costs of home help. ADLs can also be used to diagnose the onset of dementia.

Functional Assessments

Across the medical and non-medical community, the ability to rate an individual’s performance of instrumental activities of daily living vs. activities of daily living has become an important tool in elder care assessments. However, different groups use them in different ways.

Case Workers (Nurses or Social Workers)

These individuals collect information on a person’s ability to perform ADLs. They use that information to plan ahead for each patient’s ongoing care.

Primary Care Doctors

Doctors rely on ADL assessments to make a formal plan of care.

Home Health Care Skilled Nurses

Skilled nurses implement the doctor’s plan of care. They use ADLs and IADLs to select appropriate caregivers for each individual. They also use them to keep track of daily staff notes.

Physical and Occupational Therapists

Therapists use the plan of care to track and record progress on ADLs relating to specific set goals.

Long-Term Care Insurance Companies

Insurance companies require the assessments and the daily service notes to make policy payments to providers.

Government Agencies

Government agencies use the ADL assessments to qualify an individual for benefits and monitor the services provided. They also use the assessments to track how effective any ongoing treatment is.

ADLs and Financial Aid

ADLs can be used to trigger LTC insurance reimbursements. Most insurance companies have their own checklist for making these assessments.

An assessing nurse will generally be the one to fill out the ADL form.  Insurance payments begin when the formal medical assessment shows the insured person is either cognitively impaired or needs assistance with at least two activities of daily living.

IADLs as Aid to Independent Living

Instrumental activities of daily living aren’t recorded as precisely as ADLs. However, IADLs are the activities that allow a person to live independently. They aren’t necessary to stay alive, but they greatly enhance the quality of life.

ADLs are generally concerned with feeding, dressing, bathing, and walking. ADLs, in other words, are necessary to basic function. IADLs, on the other hand, are somewhat more subjective and can be masked in mildly cognitively impaired individuals.

IADL assessments are somewhat limited. But they are still useful in figuring out the cognitive function of a particular individual. Notably, the inability to perform IADLs is one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s, even when the ability to perform ADLs is still present.


In assessing long-term caregiving needs, instrumental activities of daily living vs. activities of daily living are both important to keep in mind. Each covers a variety of skills and can help professional caregivers to provide meaningful support to an aging individual.

Even if you or a loved one are currently able to perform IADLs and ADLs without support, it’s always a good idea to have a plan in place for future needs. By being aware of these types of activities, you can explore the resources that you may need to rely on in the future.

If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater San Diego, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices throughout California including: Campbell, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CA, and San Mateo, CA.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

Back To Top