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The Importance of ADLs

Letís think about the steps that we take to wash our hands. Get up out of the chair, walk to the sink, gather soap and a towel, turn on the water and check the temperature, wet your hands, put soap on your hands, rub them together, rinse, turn off the water and dry your hands. Iím sure I have left out a few details, but you get the picture. Everything we do is more complex than we think and, if you have a disability, the small things become very important.

Activities of Daily Living (ADL) are basic life skills that we learn to take care of ourselves every day. Most of us take them for granted and donít understand the importance of our ability to do them. The list of ADLs include feeding ourselves, hygiene, picking our clothes and putting them on, grooming, bathing, walking and transferring ourselves.

More complex skills are also included in the list, but are often referred to as Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL). Those include managing our money, driving or using transportation systems, shopping, cooking, cleaning, using the phone or computer, and taking medication.

Learning or relearning these skills is not as easy as it seems. Youíve heard the expression, ďthe devil is in the detailsĒ. Nobody understands more than the disabled that the intricacies of each skill are what make them so difficult to master. One small step leads to another. The accomplishment is worth the effort.

Any good rehabilitation program is focused on increasing mastery of a skill or maintaining the highest level of ability possible. The importance of ADLs is that they are critical in affirming to us that we can take care of ourselves. Even the smallest activity gives us a modicum of independence and minimizes our reliance on others. Maintaining privacy also gives us control over our lives.

Start with the right equipment and then add plenty of practice and considerable patience. Keep realistic goals in mind and give yourself credit for achieving them. If you are a caregiver, try modeling the task, then use the hand-over-hand technique to start out. I want to encourage you to find methods that work for you. There are many ways to do a job and on the journey you might just come up with something unique that can be shared with others. That is what it is all about after all, helping each other so we can each live our lives on our own terms.

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