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Losing the ability to perform basic self-care skills can make it difficult and even dangerous to live alone, but it may be possible to accommodate for some losses.

Independence is a precious commodity we particularly value as we age; but when you’re no longer able to do things like shop for food, prepare meals or handle medications, it can put you at risk for an accident, injury or illness.

If you or an older family member or friend starts to have trouble performing such tasks, it may be time to talk about moving to a senior living or long-term care community. However, there also may be supports and services to keep someone in their home longer to age in place.

Activities of Daily Living Needed to Remain at Home

What are ADLs? Activities of daily living, or ADL, are the life tasks that people need to be able to perform to live safely at home and be independent. How someone can handle any or all of these basic self-care skills helps determine what level of care or support they might need.

ADLs are needed for an individual’s basic functional living, and being able to perform the activities of daily living independently are key for anyone who wants to live on their own.

Activities of daily living examples include:

  • Feeding.
  • Continence (the ability to control bladder and bowel function).
  • Walking independently.
  • Toileting (the ability to get to and from the bathroom and use the toilet without assistance).
Instrumental Activities of Daily Living
In addition, the instrumental activities of daily living, or IADLs, are equally important for older adults who live on their own.

These IADL skills are:


Using the Telephone

This basically involves being able to place a call and answer the phone. As most everyone has a cell phone, this also means finding a contact and checking messages.


To stay independent, you need to be able to shop for groceries and other essentials. “Signs of a problem might be that mom goes to the store for milk and comes home with chicken, or dad always ate healthy and has started buying junk food,” Wasserman says. “Other issues to watch for include suddenly or significantly increased shopping and related expenses or an empty refrigerator that suggests mom’s not shopping at all.”

Preparing Food

This doesn’t necessarily mean the ability to prepare elaborate meals. It can be as simple as heating microwavable meals or making a sandwich. Red flags include burning food or leaving the stove on, missing meals, weight loss or significant changes in diet or eating habits.


While not everyone has the same standards of cleanliness and order, housekeeping is important to maintain independence. Hoarding, leaving food out, cluttered rooms and letting garbage pile up are the types of signs to watch for.

Doing Laundry

If someone stops doing laundry or wearing clean clothes, it’s important to find out why. Did they forget how to use the washer? Are they unable to climb up or down stairs to get to the laundry room? Are they depressed and have lost interest in basic hygiene?

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