What are IADLs?

IADLs, or instrumental activities of daily living, are some tasks we complete daily for ourselves and our home that go beyond activities of daily living (ADLs) and are many of the tasks you may have learned as a teenager and young adult.

IADLs are the types of tasks you do every day that require some critical thinking skills. IADLs include:

  • Using the phone
  • Shopping for groceries and essentials
  • Planning and preparing meals
  • Managing medications
  • Cleaning the home
  • Transportation
  • Money management and paying bills

Many factors affect a senior’s ability to complete these essential tasks, which is why they are assessed when a senior joins an assisted living community. While assisted living staff do not help directly with all IADLs (such as managing money), they ensure community members have the tools and assistance they need to spend their golden years comfortably.

Using the Phone

Using the phone has gotten more complex with the introduction of smartphones. While seniors don’t need to be able to navigate a smartphone as their grandkids might, the ability to manage calls, text messages, and emails is important in this day and age.

If a senior loved one struggles with their smartphone, consider a simplified cell phone option without so many features. A tablet may also be an option for seniors to use more advanced features, like games, social media, and video calling, on a larger screen. If you’re worried a senior will misplace a device, it’s probably best to avoid the cell phone altogether and stick with a more familiar landline.

Senior living staff may be able to assist with basic technology questions, but they can’t teach a senior how to use their phone or tablet for privacy reasons.

Shopping for Groceries and Essentials

The ability to stock up on groceries and essentials can be impacted by a senior’s mobility and cognitive health. For these reasons, shopping is considered an instrumental activity of daily living (IADL).

If your loved one struggles to keep a stock pantry or arrange routine shopping trips, their independence is at risk. Offer to shop with your loved one, giving them reliable transportation and an extra set of hands. A grocery delivery service can also come in handy if your loved one can navigate the technology or is comfortable letting you place orders for them.

The need for grocery shopping varies in a senior living community. Independent living means residents will have to keep an eye on these items themselves. In assisted living where residents are provided with meals and snacks, such as Vista Springs, only personal care essentials need to be stocked by the senior or their family.

Many assisted and independent living communities offer transportation services and outings that allow community members to get to the grocery store and buy items they need.

Planning & Preparing Meals

Planning and cooking meals is another crucial IADL. While being a five-star chef is not necessary, the ability to plan and prepare relatively healthy meals regularly is essential. Failing to manage these activities can lead to health problems or impact the effectiveness of medications.

An inability to properly manage meal preparation can happen for several reasons. It could be cognitive issues, mental health concerns, or mobility struggles. If these are getting in the way of your loved one's health and well-being, an assisted living community may be a good option for them. Assisted living communities provide residents with three meals a day and snacks, and many also offer activities that serve additional food and drinks, such as happy hours or holiday events.

Managing Medicines

Taking medications and supplements is essential at any age — it's even more critical as we age. Seniors often take multiple medications and supplements, but seniors may have trouble managing their medications because they can develop cognitive issues.

Not taking medications as prescribed means they won’t be as effective, or accidentally overusing certain medications can cause serious adverse reactions. As this problem can be severe, you'll want to take action. Help remind your senior loved one to take medications or organize medications in a pill caddy. Make sure you can order and pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy for them if needed.

If your loved one is still missing or overtaking medications with your assistance, consider a senior living community where the nursing staff manages medication. Your loved one will receive their medications and supplements as prescribed as the staff administers them. This can be exceptionally helpful if your loved one takes an injectable medication, such as insulin. Giving these injections to oneself can be difficult as one ages and loses mobility.

Cleaning the Home

While many people can have a cluttered home from time to time, failing to keep things clean for months can be a sign of a bigger problem. Cleaning around the house may sound easy, but it can be a steep mountain to climb for seniors. As we get older, we have less energy, fatigue sets in, and we may be less inclined to clean, which is another sign your loved one might be losing some independence.

Helping out with the cleaning process or calling a professional can work wonders for your loved one's well-being. If your loved one has a large home to clean, downsizing to an independent senior living community can make the task more manageable.

One reason a senior may struggle with cleaning their home is depression from isolation or grief. Keep an eye on your loved one for symptoms of depression if they suddenly struggle with cleaning. Senior communities offer a space for seniors to make friends with others in their peer group and help prevent isolation.

If the problem stems from a mobility issue or cognitive decline, you may want to consider assisted living. These communities offer spacious but manageable apartments with staff to keep common areas tidy.


Getting around is another critical IADL. Transportation can include driving, taking a taxi, or riding a bus or train. If your loved one isn't getting where they need to go, this impacts their level of independence.

As mentioned previously, many senior communities offer transportation services to help your loved one get to places safely, like the grocery store or doctor’s appointments. Scheduled outings can also get them out to the park, a local show, or a movie to stay engaged with the greater community.

Money Management & Paying Bills

Managing money and paying bills is something every adult has to deal with. While we all forget to pay a bill from time to time, seniors may do this consistently. It's also common for older adults to misplace credit cards or forget about a bank account. If your loved one has problems managing money, this is an IADL problem that needs immediate attention.

Helping a loved one with money management can cause some tension, but when it comes to ensuring their lights stay on or water stays running — it’s necessary. Sit down with your senior loved one and review their budget, accounts, and bills. Understand what bills, accounts, and credit cards they have and discuss adding your name to some of these items to keep a closer eye on them.

While assisted living staff can’t help residents directly with money management, living in one of these communities cuts down on the bills they need to watch. At Vista Springs, we bundle care and living services together, so your loved one only pays one bill for their monthly “rent.” Our amenities and emergency care are included in this price, so if they fall or have an accident, they aren’t charged extra for that care. And if your loved one’s care needs change, we can reassess and adjust as needed.

In Summary

IADLs are critical skills we generally learn in adolescence, but aging concerns, like cognitive decline and mobility challenges, can impact our ability to complete these tasks. While you can offer your senior loved ones some assistance at first with these tasks, assisted living communities provide consistent support to each resident based on their specific IADL needs and offer many services and amenities to achieve this support.