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What’s the difference between ADLs vs IADLs?

Many of us don’t even have to think about what we do to get ready for our day and wind down for the night. We learned how to do these things before we were four years old. Now, we just do it.

For some folks, though, getting ready for the day and for bed are not simple, semi-automatic routines. They may need help with any or all the activities that go into making one’s self clean and presentable.

Other folks, who can take care of their physical needs just fine, struggle with financial management, calling for help when they need it, getting transportation, grocery shopping, or other aspects of daily life many of us do without thinking about it.

Definition of ADL and some examples:

An ADL, which stands for Activities (or Activity) of Daily Living, includes all the things involved in personal self-care in getting ready for the day, or getting ready for sleep at night. Examples of ADLs include walking, bathing, dressing, toileting, brushing (and flossing) teeth, and eating.

Sometimes the need for help is temporary, as when a person is injured or ill. In other instances, the need for help is more long-term. A number of assessment tools exist, which help pinpoint exactly the nature (which ADL), extent (one, some, or all), and duration (help is needed only while someone recovers from injury or illness, help until the person learns how to do the activity for themselves, or a more permanent arrangement) of the assistance.

Definition of IADL and some examples:

An IADL, or Instrumental Activity of Daily Living, are more complex sets of skills we need in order to live independently. These skills are: using the telephone, shopping, preparing meals, housekeeping, using transportation, taking medication(s), and managing finances.

Needing help with IADLs is often a function of aging, but not always. Thanks to modern technology, it is now possible to get low-cost or free help for almost the entire IADL list. Being able to use the telephone, though, is what makes all the other services possible. Using a telephone, preferably a smartphone, has become a necessity rather than a luxury these days. An individual who can use a phone can handle everything else on the IADL list.

Someone with physical issues may need help with some ADLs, but be perfectly capable of handling their IADLs. They may enlist the help of cleaning, shopping, delivery, transportation, home health, and/or automatic financial services, but they can manage IADLs just fine.

Folks with some mental health issues may be able to manage their own ADLs but may need help with some IADLs. Keeping their home clean and neat, preparing nutritious meals, managing money, paying bills, getting places on time, taking meds, calling for help when needed, may be beyond that person’s capabilities.

Individuals with developmental issues may have both physical and mental health issues to deal with. They may need help with both ADLs and IADLs. A caregiver, an assisted living facility, a group home, or some other arrangement that suits all involved, may be appropriate in these cases.


ADLs cover daily physical functioning, while IADLs deal with the more complex aspects of everyday life in our society.

The most important aspect of offering or providing help with ADLs and/or IADLs is doing it with respect. Tact, sensitivity, and humor in addition to respect are good to employ, too.If you have any questions or concerns regarding ADLs or IADLs for yourself or a loved one, please contact RISE for more info.