What is daily functioning?

Basic activities of daily living are more basic everyday tasks like eating or showering, whereas instrumental activities of daily living refer to more complex everyday tasks that require more cognitive capacity, like financial management or grocery shopping.

Elderly couple sitting on bench next to ocean

Basic activities of daily living

  • Eating
  • Showering
  • Toileting
  • Dressing
  • Personal hygiene 

Instrumental activities of daily living

  • Following directions
  • Medication management 
  • Meal preparation
  • Grocery shopping
  • Financial management

Why are IADLs important?

Instrumental activities of daily living represent complex activities we perform daily that are necessary to live independently. For example, tasks like shopping for groceries, following directions to a new location or managing daily finances are part of instrumental activities of daily living.

​In addition to being important for healthy, happy, independent living as we get older, instrumental activities of daily living performance may be able to give us insight into very early stages of cognitive decline in ways that examining basic activities cannot.

Just imagine sorting five different medications into a weekly pill dispenser for the next seven days according to each individual medication’s instructions. This requires a lot of cognitive effort, including the ability to pay attention to the instruction, concentrate on the task, and coordination to action your plan. Therefore, when people begin to experience very early stages of cognitive decline it is usually more complex tasks (or instrumental activities of daily living) like the example above that show signs of impairment.

That is why researchers like us are interested in coming up with novel ways – that are time and cost effective – that allow us to examine how people perform complex instrumental activities of daily living, and importantly, to determine if performance changes over time. If we can detect changes in instrumental activities of daily living, this may hint at underlying changes in the brain that are indicative of early dementia pathology. Importantly, detecting dementia in its earliest stages is paramount to slow or prevent the onset of clinical symptoms.