What Are IADLs or the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living?

IADLs or the Instrument Activities of Daily Living are more complex than the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) needed for basic unassisted living and go a long way in improving the quality of life in elders.

Definition of Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

The Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs or the Instrumental ADLs) are the activities performed by an individual on a day to day basis that are not essential to basic self-care and independent living, but add quality to the way of life. These activities are not indispensable to a person’s survival and fundamental functioning, but they do let someone live independently in society and function well as a self-reliant individual.

The repeated failure of a person in performing IADLs is usually a precursor to assisted living (at least in part) be it home care or the admission of the person to an assisted living and care facility.

Examples of IADLs

IADLs are more complex tasks of unassisted living and being able to do them can add to a person’s quality of life immeasurably. Simple examples of IADL include:

  • Being able to do housework and prepare your meals.
  • Taking your prescribed medicines and keep a track of your physician visits.
  • Managing your money – be it ATM withdrawals, writing checks and keeping a track of income and expenditure.
  • Doing your own shopping – be it groceries, clothing or anything else you need.
  • Using the telephone and computer as a means of communication – be it for calls or emails…
  • Managing transportation – be it driving, or hiring cabs or taking the public transport.
  • Managing your household in its entirety – including pet care if you have any pets.
  • Any and all extracurricular activities – be it maintaining a hobby or socializing with friends, family and peers.

A simpler way to refer to IADLs is by remembering the mnemonic SHAFT – Shopping, Housekeeping (or housework), Accounting (or managing money), Food preparation and Telephone/Transportation… A full list of IADLs is available here.

Are IADLs essential for living unassisted?

Think of it this way – while things like being able to bathe, walk, go to the bathroom, eat and take adequate rest are the activities “essential” for the survival of a person– IADLs are activities that are not necessary for survival but do aid a person in living life to the best. The very definition of Instrumental Activities of Daily Living is that these are the things help an individual flourish as a person in the community, and be completely self-reliant in his or her care and health.

For a person to fail in doing the IADLs does not necessarily translate into needing assisted living, rather – he or she may need some help to perform these tasks every now and then; so it’s time for friends, family and paid care to pitch in as and when needed. It can also be taken as an indication to get a full check-up done for that person, so that any and all medical needs can be taken care of.

What is the difference between ADLs and IADLs?

A frequently asked question is the difference between Activities of Daily Living vs. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living. ADLs are essential to unassisted survival. A mnemonic that can be used to typically define ADLs is DEATH: Dressing (the ability to wear clothes in an acceptable fashion), Eating (feeding self so as to be in perfect health), Ambulation (walking, sitting and then standing up, getting in and out of vehicles), Toilet (ability to use the facilities and & wipe/wash self without help) and Hygiene (bathing to maintain proper hygiene). If a person fails to perform one or more of these activities, then his or her ability to live independently and without care has diminished considerably. This person may need long-term assisted living immediately.

What do failing IADLs indicate?

The inability of an individual to perform IADLs can indicate declining health, be it physical or mental. Factors that can affect a person and render them unable to perform these everyday tasks can be many – from general old age and senility to mental fog brought on by medications and/or a failing brain, and of course an increasing downfall in chronic illness or disability. IADLs need to be taken as a frontier; if a person is repeatedly failing to do them, it’s an indication to get help. Here’s an IADL test scale to check scores in case you have concerns about a friend or family.

How to handle someone with IADL dependence?

Frankly, it’s difficult to walk up to someone – be it your own parents – and tell them that they haven’t been managing their lives properly be it financially, socially or even personally. They may view it as an unwelcome intrusion into their way of living or their independence. When it comes to senior care, it’s difficult for the parent to accept this role reversal – for the children to become the caregivers and the parents to become the dependents.

To handle IADL dependency, reach out for professional help in the form of doctors and psychiatrists. What seniors may feel uncomfortable or even embarrassed about discussing with the children, they can freely talk about with their medical caregivers and between the trio – the individual needing help, the family and the medical professional – a solution can be worked out to the best benefit of the person in question.


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