What Are the Activities of Daily Living?

Definition & Examples of Activities of Daily Living

Male caregiver talking to senior man in wheelchair while they look out the window together

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To determine the type of care you or a loved one need when aging, health care and insurance providers will assess the ability to function independently. To do this, they use a set of criteria called "activities of daily living" (ADLs). These activities cover a patient's ability to perform basic daily tasks such as eating and dressing.

As people age, they eventually find themselves in a situation where they have trouble doing these basic activities. Learn the criteria your providers will use so you can be aware of when you or your loved ones qualify for a higher level of care.

What Are the Activities of Daily Living?

Daily living activities are routine tasks that individuals must carry out every day to take care of themselves. The ADLs fall into six main categories:

  • Eating: The ability to feed oneself
  • Bathing: Not only bathing and showering but various personal hygiene tasks, including grooming, oral care, and hair care
  • Dressing: Choosing clothing and dressing oneself
  • Mobility: How well an individual can get into and out of bed or a chair and move from place to place without assistance
  • Maintaining continence: The ability to control bladder and bowel functions
  • Toileting: The ability to get on and off the toilet

Older adults with sufficient physical and mental capacity to perform all the above activities of daily living independently can often thrive without caregivers. In contrast, people who cannot carry out these activities on their own may benefit from home care, home health care services, or assisted living because they would experience a reduced quality of life and an increased risk of injury or illness by living solo.

  • Acronym: ADLs

How Insurance Coverage for ADLs Works

As with other health care expenses, the costs of long-term care can be high, so individuals who need these services may choose to buy long-term care insurance to help pay for the services.

In general, you have to buy long-term care insurance before you require care, as the insurance requires medical underwriting. You can purchase long-term care insurance through an insurance agent or broker. If you need help, companies such as Amada Senior Care can help you navigate the selection of long-term care insurance.

Many long-term care insurance policy benefits kick in when an individual needs help with at least two of the six activities of daily living. But each long-term care insurance company has a specific definition of the activities of daily living, so refer to your policy to get the details on what criteria you need to meet to become eligible for benefits.

Many companies will send a representative to your home to conduct an evaluation and to develop a plan of care. The evaluation helps determine what activities of daily living you need assistance with and coordinates your needs with the benefits provided by your long-term care insurance.

Understanding Policy Limits

Depending on the policy, there may be an "elimination period," or a waiting period, anywhere from 30 to 90 days from the time you start to receive assistance with activities of daily living and the time you can collect benefits from the policy.

In addition, most policies place a cap on the time period in which you can collect benefits and the total benefit amount you are eligible to receive over your lifetime. Others will offer a more flexible daily "cash disability" amount that you can count on whether you use services each day or not. When shopping for long-term care insurance, it's important to evaluate your current and potential health concerns alongside these restrictions.

A policy with a longer elimination period can put you on the hook for out-of-pocket costs for a longer period. Make sure you have the funds to cover that gap or choose a policy with a shorter elimination period.

Paying for Care for Daily Living Activities

If you or a loved one anticipate needing assistance with everyday tasks in the future, shop for long-term health insurance now to avoid being turned down later.

If you are an existing policyholder who is struggling with daily activities of living, check your long-term health insurance policy to see if you qualify for financial assistance. Without insurance, you'll have to pay the expenses out of pocket.

If you don't have and can't afford insurance, and don't have the financial resources to pay as you go, look for other ways to pay for assisted living costs. There are ample community resources and local nonprofit organizations ready to help. Look them up through your local Area Agency on Aging.

Key Takeaways

  • The activities of daily living (ADLs) are the basic tasks that you need to be able to perform to function every day.
  • Health care providers and long-term care insurance companies use your ability to perform these tasks as a guide for how much daily care you need.
  • If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have difficulty living independently and paying for the help needed, you should look into long-term care insurance options before daily assistance is needed.