What are Activities of Daily Living?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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The phrase "activities of daily living," or ADLs, is used in reference to those people who are elderly, injured or disabled, mentally ill, chronically ill, or who otherwise may potentially be unable to care for themselves. The activities of daily living include items such as feeding oneself, bathing, practicing personal hygiene, and the ability to move around one's home, just to name a few. An occupational therapist may evaluate an individual to determine whether he or she is capable of performing these activities, or needs occupational therapy or living assistance.

Primarily, activities of daily living include all of the activities that must be done on a daily basis. This includes the ability to get out of bed in the morning without assistance, get undressed and wash up, get dressed for the day, eat food throughout the day, and at least walk to a chair to sit down. In addition, it includes the ability to control one's biological bodily functions. These are the most basic activities of daily living, as well as the most important, and it is the job of the occupational therapist to determine if these activities are possible based on a variety of medical factors.


Other activities of daily living that are not necessary to physically survive, but are necessary to live on one's own, include the ability to go shopping for groceries and prepare meals, clean up around the house, take medications as scheduled, manage one's money, and the ability to use the telephone to call for help if necessary. These are just a few of the activities of daily living that determine whether someone may remain living alone, or should choose to live in an assisted living facility, where meals will be prepared, housework will be done, and help is available on-site. Many people often find that an assisted living facility is an acceptable and safe compromise, rather than living on one's own vs. being confined to a nursing home.

Many people simply work with an occupational therapist to regain the ability to live independently, such as following an injury or illness such as a stroke. An occupational therapist can continually evaluate a patient to determine whether it is safe for him or her to live independently, or he should be placed in an assisted living facility, either over the short term or the long term. Patients who are unable to perform most or all of the basic activities of daily living may need to be placed in a nursing home, for more thorough, specialized care.


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Post 3

@Fa5t3r - I've heard of a place in Europe where they have set up a whole retirement community as a faux town, with the understanding that many of the residents are unable to understand that they are living in care, but are still able to live fully within the limits of their own memories.

Apparently being able to live what seems like an independent life (even if you are constantly cared for) helps people to live longer and stay healthier. So independent living is definitely something that should be encouraged for as long as possible for anyone.

Post 2

@Mor - It probably comes up for people who have ended up in the later stages of leprosy as well, where the activities of daily living aren't possible for them by themselves.

I know I would much prefer to be independent for as long as possible if I was in this kind of circumstance, but at the same time I wouldn't ever want to be a burden to my family. I remember when my grandfather got to the end of his life he kept escaping from my grandmother and wandering around the town, confused and alone. She hated having to put him into care, but simply could not look after him by herself (and none of her children lived in the

country at the time).

If it has to happen I'd rather just go into a nice facility and enjoy a different stage of life as much as possible, rather than upsetting the people around me. Although the sad thing is by the time you are diagnosed as unable to carry out functional activities of daily living by yourself, you might be unable to really make a choice about where you end up.

Post 1

I first heard about this phrase in reference to the routines of people who suffer from leprosy. What I didn't realize about it is the effects that people are familiar with, like losing fingers, actually occur because the nerves go dead, rather than because the flesh itself is directly affected. Without the ability to feel anything like heat or cold or pressure or pain, it's much easier than you might expect to injure yourself to the point where you end up with a lot of scars and missing body parts.

Independent living, for a person with leprosy, means taking account of every part of their body in turn, throughout the day, to check that nothing is wrong using the other senses.

It's still common in some parts of the world, unfortunately, so this is still a reality for lots of people, even if it's usually referred to as being a disease of the past.

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