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Healthcare Definition

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What Are ADLs and IADLS in Occupational Therapy

If you spend time in a healthcare facility, you may hear the term “ADL” used by staff. ADL is medical shorthand for “Activities of Daily Living.” Learning this shorthand and what it entails can help you advocate that your basic needs are addressed in a medical situation.

By definition, ADLs are the essential tasks that each person needs to perform, on a regular basis, to sustain basic survival and well-being. The term helps healthcare professionals quickly communicate the level of assistance an individual might need or how their health is impacting their day-to-day life.

Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Defining the 9 ADLs

One standard for defining the areas of Activities of Daily Living is the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework, which defines ADLs as “activities that are oriented toward taking care of your own body.” The activities are broken down into nine areas.

  • Bathing/showering
  • Toileting and toilet hygiene
  • Dressing
  • Eating/swallowing
  • Feeding (the setting up, arranging and bringing food to the mouth) 
  • Functional mobility (the ability to get from place to place while performing ADLs, either under one’s own power or with the assistance of a wheelchair or other assistive device)
  • Personal device care (utilizing essential personal care items such as hearing aids, contact lenses, glasses, orthotics, walker, etc.)
  • Personal hygiene and grooming 
  • Sexual activity 

Some administrators narrow the essential living needs into six broader categories referred to as basic Activities for Daily Living (bADL):

  • Ambulating (moving)
  • Dressing
  • Feeding
  • Bathing/showering
  • Personal hygiene
  • Toileting

What Are IADLS?

You may look at the list about and think that even if you could safely do those nine items, there are still quite a few things that contribute to your quality of life. Don’t worry, there is an extension to the list. 

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLS) refer to activities that support daily life and are oriented toward interacting with your environment. IADLs are typically more complex than ADLs. They are important components of home and community life but can be easily delegated to another person.

  • Care of others 
  • Care of pets
  • Child rearing
  • Communication management
  • Driving and community mobility
  • Financial management
  • Health management and maintenance
  • Home establishment and management 
  • Meal preparation and clean up
  • Religious and spiritual activities and expressions
  • Safety procedure and emergency responses
  • Shopping

There is also an extension to the extension. The Occupational Therapy Practice Framework also refers to the below areas of activity, which are sometimes included in ADL and IADLS lists.

  • Rest and sleep
  • Education
  • Work 
  • Play 
  • Leisure
  • Social participation

ADLs vs. IADLs

ADLs are the basic things you need to do to survive and be well. IADLs are the things you can do to enhance your personal interactions and/or environment.

ADLs in Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists assist their clients in engaging in meaningful and purposeful daily tasks. For many occupational therapists, helping their clients perform ADLs are the “bread and butter” of their services.

ADLs can be an important factor in medical decision-making. Here are some examples:

  • When discharging from a hospital, the discharge team will work to ensure you will be able to safely perform these tasks at your next location. 
  • If pain or another medical condition is impairing your ability to perform an ADL, that can be a signal that intervention is warranted. 
  • If you do undergo a procedure, an important mark of its success is whether it will improve your ability to perform ADLs. 
  • If a loved one needs additional care, the amount of help he/she needs with ADLs will help determine what level of care is required. For example, some assisted livings do not offer assistance with ADLs.

An occupational therapist will often take the lead in assessing your ability to perform ADLs and work with you and your healthcare team to ensure that these basic needs are met. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does ADL stand for?

    In healthcare, ADL stands for activities of daily living. There are nine areas of activities of daily living used in occupational therapy:

    • Bathing and showering
    • Toileting and toilet hygiene
    • Dressing
    • Feeding
    • Eating and swallowing
    • Functional mobility
    • Personal device care
    • Personal hygiene and grooming
    • Sexual activity 

  • What does IADL stand for?

    IADL stands for instrumental activities of daily living. These are activities that support and enhance daily life, including interacting with others and your environment. Common IADLs include: 

    • Care of other
    • Care of pets
    • Cooking and cleaning
    • Communicating with others
    • Driving
    • Health management
    • Money management
    • Parenting or child-rearing
    • Safety procedure and emergency responses
    • Shopping

  • What are ADLs and IADLs used for?

    An assessment of ADLs and IADLs are used to determine if it is safe for a person to live independently and what, if any, supports should be provided. They are also used to assess if more intervention is needed for chronic pain or other medical conditions. An improvement in ADLs and IADLs can suggest a treatment is working.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Edemekong PF, Bomgaars DL, Sukumaran S, et al. Activities of Daily Living. StatPearls, 2022.

  2. American Occupational Therapy Association. Table 1. Occupations.

  3. North Carolina Assisted Living Association. Tools to Help Evaluate and Select an Assisted Living Residence.

  4. Mlinac ME, Feng MC. Assessment of activities of daily living, self-care, and independenceArch Clin Neuropsychol. 2016;31(6):506-516. doi:10.1093/arclin/acw049

Additional Reading

By Sarah Lyon, OTR/L

 Sarah Lyon, OTR/L, is a board-certified occupational therapist and founder of OT Potential.


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