Activities of Daily Living

Blog / Simon Vajda / August 10, 2016

ADLs are defined as “things we normally do, such as feeding ourselves, bathing, dressing, grooming, work, homemaking and leisure.” [1]. The concept of ADLs were originally suggested by Dr Sidney Katz and his fellow researchers [2] as a means of treating and providing care to older adults who require long term service and support. Think of ADLs as a list of high level tasks that people perform on a daily basis. Depending on how well someone is able to perform these tasks, a trained professional could assess their ability to care for themselves. If they are unable to perform these tasks “well”, then assistance can be provided. These activities are usually defined as: [3]

  • Transferring (getting in and out of bed or chair or moving from one room to another)
  • Toilet hygiene
  • Self-feeding
  • Dressing
  • Bathing or Showering
  • Personal Hygiene and grooming
Fig.1 – An image showing how assistance can be provided for ADLs [4].

What about other activities not covered by ADL?

From this fundamental list of ADLs, researchers have adapted and added other activities that demonstrate the range of activities an individual may perform to live independently in a community. This list is commonly referred to as Instrumental ADLs (IADLs), and contains: [5]

  • Housework
  • Meal Preparation
  • Taking medication
  • Managing Money
  • Shopping for groceries, clothing or items
  • Use of telephone or other form of communication
  • Transportation within the community.

As you can see, combining the list of activities, a fairly substantial list of tasks an individual performs in a day is defined. But why is this definition important? As mentioned being able to quantify what a person does, a qualitative ranking can be assigned to assess an individual’s well being.

These activities have been adapted for use in geriatric care, dementia care, physical therapy assistance, youth care and disabled care.

Looking beyond health care – Smart Homes

Now traditionally ADLs and IADLs have been used to assess capability and well being (medical) of individuals within the home and community. But what if we expanded and adapted these activities for use in tomorrow’s “Internet of Things” connected smart homes?

As part of my research, I am looking at Activity Detection using low cost sensors in the context of Smart Homes. As part of that work, I am interested with detection of ADLs and IADLs as well as an activities that are traditionally outside the scope of medical concern.

These activities don’t greatly impact on a person’s wellbeing and aren’t an indication of a person’s ability to function within the community. Instead these activities are commonly performed by the “average joe” and could be detected using sensors. These activities include:

  • Lighting control (turning on/off lights or adjusting curtains/blinds)
  • Temperature control (turning on/off heating or cooling or opening/closing windows)
  • Reading (for pleasure or with intent such as study or homework)
  • Working on a hobby (specialised task involving tools or equipment)
  • Exercise / Sporting Activity
  • Digital Interaction
  • Social Interaction

Digital Interaction at home

The activity that I find the most interesting within the list is Digital Interaction. This is a very broad activity and covers interactions such as:

  • Phone interaction
    • Talking
    • Web Browsing
    • Gaming
    • Social Media
  • TV
    • Watching TV or movie
    • Console Gaming
  • Computer
    • Studying or homework
    • Gaming
    • Web Browsing
    • Social Media
  • Handheld Digital Devices
    • E-Reader
    • Tablet devices
    • Handheld devices (“Gameboy”)

Social Media Interaction now consumes a substantial amount of time amongst “Millennials” and “Gen Zers” [8]. Social Media Interaction includes things like checking and updating Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and other platforms. Social Media Interaction makes up a large portion of Digital Interaction.

Fig.2 – An image of someone digitally interacting (Watching TV and being on a mobile device) [9].

For now, this is as far as I have progressed with my research. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.



  1. “Definition of ADLs (activities of daily living)”. link. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  2. Noelker, Linda; Browdie, Richard (August 22, 2013). “Sidney Katz, MD: A New Paradigm for Chronic Illness and Long-Term Care”. The Gerontologist. link. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  3. Williams, Brie (2014). “Consideration of Function & Functional Decline”. Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Geriatrics, Second Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-0071792080.
  5. Bookman, A., Harrington, M., Pass, L., & Reisner, E. (2007). Family Caregiver Handbook. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  6. “Activities of Daily Living”. link. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  7. “Katz ADL scale”. link. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  8. “Millennials – Digital Technology”. link. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  9. “Minx TV – Lifestyle shot of man using android phone with TV on in background_tn.jpg (1024×1024)” link. Retrieved May 20, 2016

Header image courtesy of Ian Dooley.

Thanks to Rodney Pilgrim, Andrew Simmons and Niroshinie Fernando for proof reading and providing suggestions.