Why ADLs Matter Why ADLs Matter

In your research into senior care and your options for covering the costs of it, you’ve probably come across the term ADL. It’s a term that’s often thrown around without being fully explained, and understanding ADLs is actually really important to helping your loved one get the right type of senior care.

ADLs = Activities of Daily Living

ADL stands for activities of daily living and is specifically used to describe the things we all have to do every day. When you’re healthy, you take ADLs for granted, they seem easy and basic, but for the elderly and disabled, some of those basic activities of daily living start to become difficult or impossible to manage on their own.

The main activities people are referring to when they use the term ADL are:

  • Eating
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Basic grooming like brushing your hair or teeth
  • Getting dressed
  • Bathing
  • Getting in out and out bed
  • Walking

Once several of these become difficult for your loved one to perform on their own, it starts to become dangerous for them to try living on their own without help. That may sound dramatic – but someone who can’t get out of bed in the morning or consistently prepare meals faces some serious potential risks of injuries and health issues.

ADLs can help you determine the right level of care.

When you’re trying to determine what type of care is best for your loved one, it helps to sit down and really define the specific needs they have. ADLs help you to do that. If your loved one needs help with any of the activities on the list above, then someone – whether it’s their spouse, you, or someone you hire – needs to be around each day to help with them.

It’s worth noting that some of the ADLs require less constant care than others. Once your loved one reaches of the point of needing help to perform multiple ADLs, or once they have difficulty performing those that must occur with some frequency, like going to the bathroom on their own, you need to figure out how to ensure they receive full-time care.

Considering whether to move a loved one to assisted living, a nursing home, or into your own home is a big decision that requires some serious thought. One factor that can help you make the decision that’s best for both you and your loved one, is thinking about the specific ADLs your loved one needs help with.

ADLs also play a role in determining your coverage.

One of the biggest reasons ADLs matter is in their ability to help families make the right decision for their loved one, but another crucial role they play is in providing a standard that Medicare, Medicaid, and many insurance companies use to figure out the level of coverage to provide.

Under these programs, the number of ADLs a senior needs help with is often the defining factor in whether or not they qualify for assistance in paying for an assisted living home, a nursing home, or in-home care. For many long-term care insurances, the inability to perform two ADLs or more is  the point where the insurance provider decides it’s time to start paying on the policy.

For families that need senior care, figuring out how to pay for it is a big part of the equation. Defining the ADLs your loved one needs help for is therefore also important in getting the type of care they need, as well as determining what that is.


The point where seniors begin to need help completing ADLs is usually the point when most families start to consider an assisted living facility. Not all seniors are initially open to the idea of moving to senior care, but the need for help with ADLs often makes caring for someone at home a bigger job than your average family member can take on. When your loved one reaches that point, it’s important to have a serious conversation about your options and any limitations family members face in their ability to provide proper caregiving.

Figuring out the right senior care for a loved one is a necessary and difficult process. Clarifying the level of need they have with ADLs won’t make the decision easy, but it can help you make the right decision and may make the difference in your ability to pay for care.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and lifelong student with an ongoing curiousity to learn and explore new things. She turns that interest to researching and exploring subjects helpful to seniors and their families for SeniorAdvisor.com.

1 Comment

  1. Linda Wise March 18, 2017 Reply

    Wonderful post! It’s hard to believe that a simple term like ADLs can be so helpful in determining the level of care elders might need. It can help people to choose whether moving their loved ones to assisted living, nursing home or their own house would be better for them.

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