Aging In Place

11/14/2023 | By Terri L. Jones

How can you know when you or a loved one can no longer live independently? Experts use objective benchmarks labeled ADLs and IADLs to gauge a person’s need for everyday assistance. These benchmarks help determine if an individual needs home modifications, professional in-home care, or the aid found at a senior community. Seniors Guide looks at five common IADLs and offers strategies that can help some seniors extend their independence.

There’s no question that someone who has trouble getting in and out of bed, toileting, and feeding themselves cannot live independently. (These basic everyday tasks are known in the industry as ADLs.)

However, other activities like preparing meals, housekeeping, and managing medications can be just as crucial. Called Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), these essential tasks require complex thinking and organizational skills, and a decline in these areas may point to a need for assistance and support from family or professionals.

We’ve compiled some warning signs that may indicate a decline in IADLs. We also offer some strategies to help resolve or compensate for these deficits and help you or your loved one maintain independence.

5 IADLs and compensation strategies

1. Dirty house and clothing

Notice when an older adult who has always kept a clean house and been well-groomed suddenly has piles of garbage, dirty dishes, or laundry in their home.

You may want to contact a healthcare provider to determine if medical issues may be the culprit or if the person is unmotivated to perform these chores due to depression.

Another cause may be home layout, such as stairs to a laundry room or a long walk to an outside garbage can. Simple adjustments could facilitate these tasks and allow the person to continue to live independently.

2. Difficulty making phone calls

When living independently, being able to use the phone is critical. If your loved one forgets how to make or answer calls or perhaps isn’t even aware that the phone is ringing, they won’t be able to get help in an emergency and you won’t be able to reach them.

Setting up speed dial and/or a written list of commonly called friends and family kept by the phone makes calling easier. If hearing is a problem, adding a flasher to a landline (or enabling a cellphone to flash) may help ensure they don’t miss incoming calls.

3. Forgetting medications

A confused senior woman with many pills bottles in front of her. By Robert Miller. Article on IADLs and how to overcome some of the issues.

With age usually comes a longer list of medications. That means refilling prescriptions and taking the right pills at the right time, both of which can be challenging at any age! Medication missteps can result in falls, cognitive issues, a trip to the ER, or worse.

To help seniors manage multiple medications, Bill Deane, senior vice president at PharMerica, a national pharmacy provider, told U.S. News & World Report that some pharmacies will package their customers’ medications in convenient blister packs, much like a pill organizer. Plus, smart pillboxes can remind your loved one to take their medications as well as track if and when they take them.

Pill dispensers and other useful gadgets for seniors at home

4. Buying too much food or too little

If Mom or Dad seems to have an overabundance of peanut butter but no milk or bread, they may be forgetting what they need when they go to the store.

Encouraging or helping them keep a shopping list could help. To give them a hand, you could make a list of items they often buy and make plenty of copies. Each week, they can circle the items they need and add other things that are not on the list.

If they’re comfortable with technology, suggest an app such as AnyList that enables them to easily update their needs. Many of these lists also enable sharing, so you or a caregiver can add to or shop from the list, too.

Chances are that your loved one will have a well-stocked fridge and pantry when they shop with a grocery list.

5. Leaving the stove on

Some kitchen errors, like difficulty following recipes or omitting ingredients, can be resolved with meals that are easier to prepare. However, burning food on a regular basis or leaving the stove on is a safety issue.

If this is the case, maybe it’s time to turn off the power to the stove and stock the freezer with microwave meals. And if you’ve noticed that your loved one is losing weight or their refrigerator is empty, they may not be making meals at all and could benefit from a food delivery service.

It’s important that you pay close attention to these IADLs as well as other activities like driving or paying bills. If you recognize changes in how your family member is functioning in their home, be sure to act right away.

Take the Seniors Guide Care Assessment to determine the right level of care for you or a loved one

“When functional declines start, they can cascade and cause additional problems and worsening health,” explained geriatrician Dr. Jawwad Hussain. “When identified and addressed early, some functional decline can be reversed with physical or occupational therapy or other interventions.”

However, if your loved one’s challenges persist, you may want to engage the services of a home care agency or other company, such as a housekeeping or grocery store delivery service, to fill in the gaps at home. And when even these measures don’t give your mom or dad the help they need to live safely, consider a move to an assisted living community where they can receive ongoing support.

How can assisted living give you or your parent a helping hand?

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over 10 years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones