The Activities of Daily Living (ADL) Checklist

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One common reason for people to make a move to assisted living communities is that they have trouble with essential daily tasks. These tasks, referred to as the Activities of Daily Living—ADLs for short—include many things we all do daily, including personal hygiene, getting around our homes, eating, and using the restroom.

It’s natural for our abilities to change as we age, and some tasks that we used to do without even thinking about them can become difficult with physical or cognitive changes. For some people, this might happen gradually, or it may seem to happen suddenly.

By talking with your loved one about their changing abilities, and paying attention to them, you can help them find the right level of support for safe living conditions and a great quality of life, either in their own home or in an assisted living community.

What are the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?

The Activities of Daily Living are a range of tasks that you’ve likely spent much of your life doing without paying much attention to. They’re the basic things we each do throughout the day that allow us to live happily, safely, and independently at home.

The Activities of Daily Living include:

  • Personal care & hygiene: The ability to take care of all the grooming essentials, including bathing, dental hygiene, hair, and nail care
  • Dressing: Being able to pick out clothing and physically dress oneself
  • Eating: The ability to feed oneself (this doesn’t include shopping for or preparing the food)
  • Using the toilet and continence: Control of bladder and bowel function, plus the ability to use the toilet independently and hygienically as needed
  • Mobility: The ability to move from one place to another, like getting into and out of bed or a chair, and walking independently

Different Levels of Difficulty

Notice that just because a person may have some difficulty with one of the ADLs doesn’t mean big life changes need to happen to keep them safe and comfortable.

For example, someone may be able to get dressed independently, but struggle with small buttons, zippers, or leaning over to tie their shoes. This may be able to be addressed with a wardrobe update.

Similarly, while one individual may be unable to use a knife while dining, another may be unable to chew and swallow certain foods. When you’re talking about the ADLs with a loved one, be sensitive to the degree of changes they’re noticing.

Knowing the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

Before a person starts to show changes in their ability to perform one or more ADLs, they may begin to have difficulty with some of the instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs). These are also tasks that are important to an independent life, but they’re more about organizational and complex thinking skills.

A decline in the ability to perform some IADLs will generally occur before the ADLs. These activities may be things your aging loved one is more comfortable bringing up in conversation.

The IADLs include:

  • Using technology to communicate: Including email, phone, the internet, and mail
  • Financial management: Including paying bills on time, sticking to a budget, and managing their assets
  • Shopping: Including groceries, clothing, and other essentials
  • Meal preparation: Every step of making a meal, from chopping onions and using the stove, to tidying up afterward
  • Housework: All of the chores required to keep a reasonably tidy and safe home, plus home maintenance
  • Medication management: Taking the correct medication as directed, and getting timely refills

What are Signs my Aging Loved One Needs Extra Help?

Your loved one is the best judge of their own abilities. Foster an open and caring communication style so they’re comfortable sharing with you when their needs change. It’s important for any individual to feel that they’re empowered in their own lives.

You can also pay attention to your family member and their home. Notice whether:

  • They have bruising that could be the result of a fall
  • Their home is unusually disorganized, or if chores that they previously took care of are not done
  • There are unpaid bills or new purchases that don’t seem to match their budget
  • They look disheveled
  • There’s a lack of fresh food in the house, or if there’s unsafe or expired food in the fridge
  • Their weight has changed
  • They’ve missed appointments, missed medication, or otherwise seem unusually forgetful
  • Their mood has changed
  • They don’t seem interested in hobbies that used to bring them joy

Activities of Daily Living Checklist

If you’ve noticed your family member’s abilities seem to have changed—or they’ve brought up changes on their own—have a frank, but sensitive, discussion with them about what things they need help with. Make note of the level of care that would help them continue to live independently. Do you need to hire help or would they be more comfortable living somewhere like an assisted living community?

For each of the ADLs below, note whether they can perform the task:

  • Fully independently
  • Sometimes, with some help
  • Not at all unless they have significant help


  • Getting dressed
  • Using the restroom
  • Bathing or showering
  • Grooming, including combing hair, trimming nails, and brushing teeth
  • Managing medication, including taking the right medication at the right time
  • Preparing a meal
  • Eating a meal
  • Washing dishes
  • Moving around their home
  • Walking around the block
  • Getting into or out of bed
  • Climbing the stairs
  • Shopping for groceries
  • Shopping for other essentials, including clothing
  • Housework
  • Paying bills on time and other financial management
  • Driving
  • Laundry
  • Using the phone and other digital communication (email, internet, and texting) as they have previously

What to do Next

If you find that your parent is having trouble performing ADLs independently, consider whether you or another family member can help them tweak their lifestyle to continue to live at home. But also know there are options for them to get support, whether through services like meal delivery and housekeeping, or a bigger change, such as assisted living.

How Assisted Living can Help with ADLs

An engaging assisted living community like Mill City can be just the right mix of independence, support, and taking tedious chores off your loved one’s to-do list. Residents enjoy their own private apartments, and can receive the right level of help for their needs, including chef-prepared meals, assistance getting up in the morning, and any other ADLs that may be getting in the way of enjoying their day.

If you think assisted living might be the right move for your loved one, we invite you to contact us with any questions or to book a tour of our community.

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