Inside the kitchen of the ADL suite at Bartram Campus

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

People who have suffered some sort of debilitating accident or medical emergency, such as a stroke or other traumatic brain injury, can tragically lose the ability to perform simple, habitual acts of self-care that we all take for granted. Physiotherapists and fellow medical professionals often use the performance level of a patient regarding Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) to measure their functional ability.

It’s critical that individuals who have endured such an illness or incident regain these basic abilities in expedient fashion through physical therapy, occupational therapy and other concurrent programs — not only so they can begin to once again take care of themselves, but also so they can reclaim the sense of independence and self-worth that comes with knowing they can and will overcome these obstacles, recover and retake control of their own lives.

What Are Activities of Daily Living?

Basic Activities of Daily Living are self-care activities we all learn as children to enable us to take care of ourselves at home or in our community. Different populations have different definitions of ADLs, but they never disagree on what ADLs are, or are for.

Activities of Daily Living can generally be broken down into the following categories:

  • Personal hygiene. Includes oral and nail care, bathing, and grooming.
  • Eating. The ability to take food from the plate to the mouth, chew and swallow.
  • Toileting. The ability to successfully use the bathroom.
  • Dressing. The ability to select, put on and take off clothing correctly.
  • Mobility and transferring. Being able to walk from one point to another without support, get in and out of bed, and rise out of a seat or chair.

Activities of Daily Living are basic daily undertakings, and your independence depends on whether you can successfully navigate them without needing help from a caregiver. Some other actions can also dictate your freedom in your daily living; however, you do not engage in them daily. They are called Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs).

ADLs vs. IADLs

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are technically similar, as you need to be able to do both to live independently. However, IADLs are not required daily, unlike ADLs. IADLs are self-care activities you learn as a teenager. They are more complex, and might require organizational skills. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living include managing finances, the ability to go shopping and prepare food, managing communication, using transport, taking medication and going shopping.

Activities of Daily Living are more noticeable when one loses function than IADLs. However, once one loses the ability to perform, Instrumental activities disappear first, before ADLs. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living determine how much an elderly or disabled person needs help.

ADLs are more focused on day-to-day activities that do not require critical thinking. Therefore, they are used to determine whether people need dementia care. On the other hand, IADLs require cognitive thinking, and can be used to more easily detect whether or not people are cognitively impaired. Cognitive impairment in people who struggle with IADLs could indicate precursors to dementia, or could be a symptom of brain injury or other illness.

It is also essential to seek treatment from qualified, experienced medical professionals such as those at Brooks Rehabilitation when facing difficulties with Instrumental Activities of Daily Living. Struggling with IADLs signals a problem with physical health and emotional stability.

ADLs and Rehabilitation

Physical therapists and others assess Activities of Daily Living in patients to determine their functional status. A physical health problem may be reflected in a patient when they are struggling with ADLs. Once issues in helpful ability are determined, proper diagnosis can be administered to manage Activities of Daily Living and independence.

In case of difficulty performing ADLs, doctors often recommend physical exercise regimens that will improve strength of the joints and flexibility. Many also suggest regimens such as the Otago Exercise Program for strength and balance. A good exercise increases grip strength, gait speed, and balance, improving overall ADL performance.

Activities of Daily Living are also important benchmarks in physical therapy, as they provide milestones in improvement or deviation in a patient’s condition. Physical and occupational therapists can therefore make decisions depending on ADLs.

For instance, when a patient is discharged, it is considered whether they can independently perform basic tasks at their home. Physical pain that causes impairment in ADLs indicates that caregivers may need to intervene. A successful medical procedure is determined by an improved ability to perform ADLs.

Advanced and Meaningful ADLs

In physical therapy, ADL work includes all those tasks that are necessary, as well as those that are important to a patient’s specific quality of life. Activities of Daily Living such as writing, homecare, work, financial management, driving, and school-related activities are called advanced ADLs. Meaningful ADLs are leisure activities such as musical talents, sports, and hobbies.

Meaningful ADLs restore a patient’s physical, emotional, and functional involvement, and vary with every patient. For instance, a patient who finds satisfaction in being a homemaker would have cooking as a meaningful activity. Cooking would therefore be a necessary and therapeutic part of the patient’s physical therapy.

The ultimate goal of this type of therapy at Brooks Rehabilitation is to help patients gain independence by monitoring their ADL performance. Cases such as aging, medical side effects, effects of home environment, and stroke are good examples of how independence is measured through Activities of Daily Living.

ADLs and Stroke Rehabilitation

We recommend rehabilitative therapy in stroke patients to help them regain Activities of Daily Living. A stroke can be emotionally and physically challenging due to numbness or paralysis, limb weakness, or communication struggle. Relearning ADLs after stroke rotates around neuroplasticity, which is the ability of a patient’s brain to reorganize synaptic connections.

Neuroplasticity can be promoted by involving stroke patients in highly repetitive and task-specific activities to stimulate the brain and create demand for those activities. People recovering from a stroke can learn a sequence of dressing set by a therapist, or an aid to help them adapt.

Another way of monitoring ADLs in stroke victims is practicing cutting putty using utensils, simulating cutting food in preparation for feeding. When this is done daily, the brain is stimulated to use utensils, which may improve the daily activity of feeding oneself.

Learn More About ADLs in Physical Therapy at Brooks Rehabilitation

If you or someone you love is struggling with Activities of Daily Living, contact us today to schedule a consultation with our experienced, compassionate therapists. Brooks Rehabilitation is committed to providing optimal outcomes for those in search of a way to reclaim their lives.

Translate »