What You Need to Know About Assessing Your Parent’s ADL Ability

Is it time for your parent to move to an assisted living or long-term care community?

The answer to that question is never easy for an adult child to answer. It’s tough to know what to look for and how to evaluate your parent’s ability to live on their own. After all, you’re their child, not their doctor.

One of the ways in which someone’s suitability for an assisted living or long-term care community is evaluated is through an activities of daily living (ADLs) assessment.

Here’s how that works, who can perform one and how you can use some of the measurement tools to get answers on your own.

Why (And How) ADLs Are Measured

Activities of daily living are what they sound like: they’re the things you do from day to day as an independent adult.

Researchers and medical professionals have spent decades outlining ADLs and figuring out how to measure them in senior patients. Evaluating ADL ability provides a more concrete way of answering an abstract question—is it okay for this person to be living on their own?

They’re also helpful in determining the best way to provide any necessary assistance to seniors.

“ADLs are one of the most important measurements used to determine the level of care an individual requires and what their care plan should entail,” author Carol Bradley Bursack writes in her article, Activities of Daily Living: Why This Measure Matters.

In terms of who provides ADL assessments, your parent can go to their physician to begin. They might also be referred to an occupational therapist. Additionally, if you’re considering an assisted living community or a long-term care community, trained professional on staff can oftentimes provide an assessment or help you find someone who can.

“It is best to have a complete needs assessment conducted by a specialist (geriatric care manager, nurse, occupational therapist or social worker) to fully identify all problems, their root causes and potential solutions,” aging life care professional Carmel Froemke advises.


Learn more about what ADLs are and why they’re so important.


Activities of Daily Living Assessment for Your Parent

As we mentioned above, an ADL assessment should be completed by a professional if you have questions about your parent’s ability to live at home alone.

However, most adult children wonder if it’s even time to consult their parent’s doctors.

If Mom isn’t cooking anymore, how do you know if that’s a sign she needs assisted living or just a simple shift in her interests? If Dad keeps forgetting to take his medicine, does that mean he needs long-term care or is it just a normal sign of aging? Is that something you should go to his doctor about?

If you struggle with those kinds of doubts, you can use these resources to get a better idea of your parent’s needs.

Evaluating Basic ADLs

To begin, it’s important to know that there are two types of ADLs: basic and instrumental.

Basic activities of daily living are physical self-care tasks such as bathing, dressing, toileting and continence, transferring and feeding/eating.

Instrumental activities of daily living are a bit more complex. They include cooking, medication management, shopping, communicating via telephone, managing money and finances, performing housework, laundering clothing and driving or using public transportation.

Here’s a quick list to help you evaluate your parent’s basic ADL ability. For each activity, check the column that best fits your parent:

ActivityCan complete without supervision or assistanceCan only complete with assistance
Transferring (getting out of bed or chair)
Continence (control of bladder and bowel)
Feeding (food may be prepared by someone else)

Give one point for every check in the left hand column. If the check is in the right hand column, give zero points. People with a score closer to six are more independent. However, if your parent ends up with a score closer to 0, it may be time to talk to a health professional.


Related: 4 Signs It’s Time for Assisted Living


Evaluating Instrumental ADLs

As we all know, living on your own involves more than feeding and clothing yourself. If you’re trying to decide whether your parent is okay living on their own or if they need more assistance in a senior living community, you also need to evaluate their ability to complete instrumental ADLs.

You can use this IADL worksheet if you want to see what a medical professional will look at when they assess your parents. However, as an abbreviated version, here’s what you should ask yourself when thinking about your parent’s living situation:

  • Can my parent make phone calls on their own to both familiar numbers and numbers they’ve looked up?
  • Can my parent complete their own grocery and clothes shopping?
  • Can my parent prepare or buy their own healthy meals?
  • Can they keep their house acceptably clean on their own?
  • Can they do their own laundry?
  • Can they travel independently?
  • Can they consistently and accurately take their medications?
  • Can they manage their financial matters?

If you answered yes to all or most of these questions, your parent is likely still able to live independently. But if they need assistance with some or most of those tasks, that’s when you should talk with your parent about meeting with their physician.


Related: Convincing Mom or Dad That It’s Time


Is Assisted Living or Long-Term Care Necessary?

After your parent’s doctor or another medical professional has evaluated your parent’s ADL ability, it may be time for assisted living or long-term care.

If that’s the case, there are a lot of helpful resources to help you determine which is the best community for your parent. We’ve created two guides to help you along the way:

We hope this has been helpful! As always, contact us with any questions you may have.