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  • Writer's pictureCindy Davis

How To Determine Senior Support Needs and Match To Housing Options?

Senior woman getting aid to sand up

Using Evaluation Tools for Choosing the Right Senior Housing

The Katz Index and the Lawton-Brody Scale are valuable tools in evaluating the care needs of older adults, providing a structured approach to assess ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), respectively. Here’s how each tool functions and aids in the decision-making process for selecting the right housing option.


The Katz Index of Independence in Activities of Daily Living focuses on six key ADLs: Bathing, Dressing, Eating, Transferring, Toileting, and Continence. By observing and rating an individual's ability to perform these tasks independently, the Katz Index offers a clear snapshot of their physical capabilities and the level of personal care they may require. This tool helps families and healthcare professionals understand whether a senior can manage these fundamental activities on their own or if they need assistance, guiding them towards a housing option that aligns with the individual's care needs.


For instance, a high level of independence in ADLs as assessed by the Katz Index might suggest that an individual is well-suited for Independent Living, where minimal personal care support is provided. Conversely, difficulties in managing multiple ADLs could indicate that Assisted Living or Nursing Home care is more appropriate, where tailored support is readily available.


The Lawton-Brody Instrumental Activities of Daily Living Scale expands the assessment to include more complex cognitive tasks that are essential for living independently within a community. These include Correctly Using Communication Tools, Shopping, Preparing Meals, Cleaning and Maintaining the Residence, Doing the Laundry, Managing Medications, Handling Finances, and Arranging Transportation. The Lawton-Brody Scale assesses a senior's ability to perform these tasks, shedding light on their cognitive and functional capacities.


A higher degree of independence in IADLs may point towards Independent Living as a viable option, where residents have more autonomy but can access community resources. On the other hand, challenges in managing IADLs may necessitate considering Assisted Living, where additional support services for these activities are provided, or even Nursing Home care for those with extensive needs.


By employing the Katz Index and Lawton-Brody Scale, families gain invaluable insights into their loved one's functional status, enabling them to match those needs with the appropriate level of support offered by different senior housing options. These tools not only facilitate a more informed choice but also ensure that the selected environment can adequately support the senior's well-being and independence, making them essential components of the care planning process. For more details on the tools and access to each refer to these posts: 6 ADLs Explained to Get the Senior Care You Need and 8 IADLs to Assess Senior Autonomy and Care Needs. The tools themselves are also available on the GeriScope Resources page.

Assessing ADL Support in Different Senior Housing Options

The six ADLs are fundamental personal care tasks crucial for an individual's daily routine. Each housing option provides varying levels of support for these activities, directly influencing the independence and well-being of its residents.

ADL #1 - Bathing

Good personal hygiene, encompassing activities such as brushing teeth, combing, or fixing hair, clipping nails, and bathing, plays a pivotal role in maintaining a senior's health and sense of well-being. However, the task of bathing for seniors carries with it the risk of falls or slips, making safety in the bathroom a paramount concern.


For In-Home and Independent Living settings, no formal bathing services are provided, placing the responsibility for ensuring safe bathing practices on the seniors and their support network. It may necessitate modifications or renovations to the bathroom to enhance safety, such as installing grab bars, reducing step-in height for showers, and incorporating hand sprays. These adjustments aim to minimize the risk of falls, a common and dangerous occurrence in wet environments. Families must evaluate these needs and make the necessary changes to maintain safety while promoting independence in personal hygiene routines.

Elderly woman in a handicapped shower

Assisted Living environments understand the crucial role personal hygiene plays in a senior's life, balancing the need for independence with safety precautions. Facilities are designed with safety and accessibility in mind, featuring grab bars, zero-entry showers, and non-slip surfaces in private bathrooms attached to each resident's room. This setup allows residents who are capable to manage their bathing independently, fostering a sense of autonomy. However, for those who require it, stand-by assistance is available, where trained staff provide support as needed, ensuring safety without compromising dignity. This approach allows for a personalized care experience, catering to varying levels of ability among residents.


In contrast, Nursing Homes offer a more hands-on approach to personal hygiene, recognizing that many of their residents require comprehensive assistance. Trained aides are responsible for managing bathing activities, utilizing specially designed spaces that ensure safety and accommodate the physical challenges many residents face. The emphasis here is on preventing falls and injuries, with staff closely overseeing all aspects of bathing to maintain the highest levels of hygiene. While bathing is closely managed, other personal hygiene tasks, such as hair grooming and nail care, may be optional based on the resident's ability and preference, ensuring a tailored approach to care that respects individual needs and desires.

ADL #2 – Dressing and ADL#3 – Eating

Dressing (ADL#2) and Eating (ADL #3) play a significant role in maintaining a senior's independence and dignity. The level of assistance required in these areas can vary widely among individuals, influencing their suitable living arrangement.


Dressing includes the ability to make appropriate clothing decisions and physically dress and undress oneself. Some seniors may require help due to mobility issues, cognitive impairments, or physical conditions that limit their ability to manage buttons, zippers, or to coordinate outfits. Tools and equipment like button hooks, zipper pulls, and dressing sticks can help, enabling easier self-dressing for those with limited dexterity or mobility. Elastic shoelaces, Velcro shoes, and adaptive clothing are also available to simplify the process.

Elderly man getting help putting on a shirt

Eating involves being able to feed oneself, which can be challenging due to various health issues. Seniors might need assistance with cutting food, opening containers, or even the act of bringing food from the plate to the mouth. Tools like utensils with easy-grip handles, non-slip mats, and adaptive dishes can help maintain independence in eating. For those with more significant difficulties, assistance may extend to feeding by another person.


Seniors living In-Home or at an Independent Living community generally manage dressing and eating on their own or with the aid of informal caregivers or hired assistance. The use of adaptive tools and equipment is common to support independence in these activities, allowing seniors to retain a sense of autonomy.

Senior couple eating a meal

In Assisted Living settings, residents may receive reminders or stand-by assistance for dressing and eating as needed. This could mean help with selecting clothes, assistance with difficult clothing items, or support during meals to ensure nutritional needs are met. Assisted living facilities are equipped to provide this level of support, striking a balance between offering help and encouraging independence.

At a Nursing Home the support for dressing and eating becomes more comprehensive, with assistance included as part of the care plan. Given the higher care needs of nursing home residents, staff are on hand to provide the necessary help with these ADLs, ensuring that everyone’s requirements are met. This includes full assistance with dressing, from choosing appropriate attire to physically helping residents get dressed, and eating support that may involve complete feeding assistance for those who are unable to eat independently.

ADL#4 – Transferring

Transferring (ADL #4) refers to the ability of an individual to move between positions or locations, such as getting in and out of bed, chairs, or moving from one room to another. This activity is crucial for maintaining mobility, yet it can become challenging due to age-related issues, physical disabilities, or after surgery.


For In-Home and Independent Living settings, the responsibility for managing transferring tasks primarily falls on the individual and their personal support network. This might involve family members assisting with moving the senior from place to place within the home or employing paid caregivers to provide the necessary support. Adaptive equipment, such as bed rails, transfer benches, or lift chairs, can also be utilized to facilitate safer and more independent transfers.

Elderly man getting assistance with transferring out of wheelchair

Assisted Living facilities offer a supportive environment where residents receive assistance with transferring activities as needed. This includes help with bed transfers, ensuring residents can safely get in and out of bed, and escorts to communal spaces, providing support and companionship as they move around the facility. Additionally, assisted living often incorporates physical and occupational therapy services designed to enhance mobility, strength, and independence, further supporting residents' transferring needs.


Given the higher care needs of Nursing Home residents, assistance with transferring is a fundamental part of the daily care provided. Staff are trained to assist residents with all their mobility needs, ensuring safe transfers in various scenarios. The focus is on preventing falls, promoting safety, and maintaining as much independence as possible, with specialized equipment and therapy services frequently part of the care plan.

ADL #5 – Toileting

Using the toilet, or Toileting, impacts a senior's dignity and independence. Ensuring safe and accessible toileting facilities is essential across all senior living options, with each environment adapting its level of support to the residents' varying needs.

Elderly man with chain in handicapped bathroom

Seniors residing In-Home and in Independent Living settings are primarily responsible for their toileting needs. The focus is on ensuring the environment is equipped with necessary safety and mobility aids, such as grab bars and seat raisers, to facilitate independent toileting while minimizing the risk of falls. In these more autonomous settings, seniors or their families might also consider modifications to the bathroom layout or the installation of specialized equipment to enhance accessibility and safety further.


While fostering a level of independence, Assisted Living facilities understand that some residents may require stand-by assistance with toileting. This support is discreet and respectful, aimed at providing help while preserving the resident's privacy and dignity. Facilities are designed with accessibility in mind, ensuring that bathrooms are equipped with safety features. Additionally, for residents who need them, assisted living can provide support with catheters, offering a higher level of care while still enabling as much independence as possible.


Given the comprehensive care model of Nursing Homes, residents here receive full support with toileting, including assistance with catheters if required. The staff is trained to offer respectful and attentive care, ensuring all toileting needs are met promptly and safely.

ADL #6 – Continence

Continence, often misconceived as synonymous with toileting, is a distinct Activity of Daily Living (ADL) that encompasses the ability to control bladder and bowel functions. Unlike toileting, which involves the physical act of using the toilet, continence relates to the maintenance of control over these bodily functions, a crucial aspect of dignity and comfort for seniors.

Senior citizen in adult diaper

For In-Home and Independent Living settings, where residents are expected to manage their continence independently, the emphasis is on creating an environment that supports their ability to do so. This may involve access to incontinence supplies such as absorbent pads or protective underwear, which can be discreetly utilized to manage incontinence issues. Seniors and their families may also explore the use of waterproof bedding and furniture covers to protect against accidents, ensuring a comfortable living space that respects the senior's dignity.


Assisted Living facilities recognize the sensitive nature of continence care and are equipped to provide discreet support and access to incontinence management tools. While residents may still maintain a degree of independence in managing their continence, stand-by assistance is available for those who require help in accessing and utilizing continence supplies. Additionally, staff can provide guidance and support in managing incontinence, including monitoring for any health issues that may arise from it.


Given the higher level of care needs among Nursing Homes residents, nursing homes offer comprehensive continence care, including providing all necessary incontinence supplies and also implementing personalized care plans to manage and treat incontinence. Furthermore, these settings may offer specialized interventions, such as pelvic floor exercises or bladder training programs, to help manage or improve continence issues.

Exploring IADL Services Across Senior Housing Settings

Support for the 8 IADLs adjusts to meet the changing capabilities of seniors, with each housing option offering distinct levels of assistance for these more complex tasks.

Three IADLs Are Family Responsibilities

Across all housing options, certain Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) typically fall outside the scope of services provided, necessitating that families plan to address these needs independently.


For example, Communicating Effectively (IADL #1), crucial for staying connected with loved ones and the world at large, usually depends on support from family, friends, and community networks, except in cases where individuals are in Memory Care or Rehabilitation settings, which may offer more specialized support.


Collage of images showing elderly talking on phone, shopping, and handling finances

When it comes to Shopping (IADL #2), whether for groceries or personal items, the task generally transitions to online methods or relies on assistance from family, friends, and the community, especially as mobility issues or access to retail locations becomes challenging.


Specifically, Handling Finances (IADL #7) often requires the appointment of a designated surrogate and setting up online payment options as the individual’s ability to handle financial matters properly diminishes. Understanding these nuances ensures that families can make arrangements to fill these gaps, ensuring their finances do not become a problem.

IADL #3 – Preparing Meals

For In-Home, seniors and their families are responsible for meal preparation, with options ranging from cooking at home, utilizing meal delivery or meal prep services, to relying on the support of family, friends, and the community for their nutritional needs.

Senior mand cooking a meal

In Independent Living communities, residents enjoy the flexibility of restaurant-style dining and meal plans, with the added convenience of having meals delivered to their units upon request, catering to those who seek a balance between independence and convenience.


Assisted Living facilities offer a structured meal plan typically served in a communal dining room, with the option for room delivery, ensuring residents receive nutritious meals while accommodating varying levels of independence and dietary needs.


Nursing Homes provide the most comprehensive meal support, with all nutrition tailored and provided in accordance with each resident's specific dietary requirements and restrictions, ensuring the highest level of care for those with significant health concerns.

IADL #4 – Cleaning and Maintaining Residence

For In-Home environments, the responsibility for cleaning and maintenance rests solely with the senior and their loved ones, requiring them to manage these tasks independently or arrange for external assistance as needed.

Elderly woman cleaning table

In Independent Living communities, the facility typically provides light housekeeping services, which can include tasks such as vacuuming, dusting, and general tidying, in addition to maintaining all landscaping, repairs, and routine maintenance like changing light bulbs. This arrangement allows residents to enjoy a carefree lifestyle while still living independently, with the facility ensuring communal areas and external aspects of the residence are well-kept and safe.


On the other hand, Assisted Living facilities and Nursing Homes offer a more encompassing approach to housekeeping, handling all aspects of cleaning and maintenance within the residents' living spaces. These services are designed with special attention to creating a safe and clean environment, crucial for preventing infections and injuries among a more vulnerable population. Additionally, these facilities adhere strictly to regulatory requirements, ensuring that housekeeping practices meet high standards of hygiene and safety.

IADL#5 – Doing Laundry

For In-Home and Independent Living settings, residents often have the flexibility to handle their own laundry with in-unit or on-site washers and dryers or residents may choose to rely on loved ones for assistance. Alternatively, laundry can be managed as a paid optional service, providing convenience for those who prefer not to deal with the chore themselves.

Senior man doing laundry

In both Assisted Living and Nursing Home environments, laundry services are included as part of the comprehensive care package, removing the burden of managing personal laundry from residents and their families. These facilities typically operate centralized laundry operations, not accessible to residents, to ensure all clothing and linens are laundered regularly. This setup not only simplifies the residents' daily routines but also adheres to strict standards of hygiene and cleanliness, essential in communal living settings.

IADL #6 - Managing Medications

For In-Home and Independent Living settings, the responsibility for medication management generally falls to the individual and their family. Residents in these environments are expected to manage their own medication regimens, with the support of family members to assist in tracking dosages, frequency, and ensuring adherence to any specific dietary or beverage interactions prescribed. Given the critical importance of accurate medication management to health and well-being, it is highly advisable for individuals and their support networks to maintain regular communication with healthcare providers and pharmacists. Such consultations can provide a valuable opportunity to clarify medication instructions, understand potential side effects, and address any questions or concerns regarding the medication regimen. This proactive approach to medication management in less supervised living environments plays a crucial role in safeguarding against the risks associated with medication errors and ensuring the effective management of health conditions.

Senior male patient and nurse reviewing medications

In Assisted Living facilities, medication management is offered as an optional service, tailored to the needs of individuals who require assistance with their medication regimen. This service ensures that residents receive their prescribed medications correctly and on time. The option for professional medication management helps mitigate the risks associated with improper medication use, leading to adverse reactions or the exacerbation of health conditions.


Nursing Homes, on the other hand, provide comprehensive 24-hour medication management and administration conducted by licensed professionals. This level of service is designed to meet the needs of residents with more complex medical conditions who require constant oversight to ensure their medication regimen is followed precisely. The professional management of medications in nursing homes addresses significant health concerns, ensuring the safety and well-being of residents through strict adherence to medical protocols and prescription guidelines. This attentive approach to medication management is essential for maintaining the overall health of residents and minimizing the risk of medication-related issues.

IADL #8 – Arranging Transportation

Arranging Transportation (IADL#8) enables seniors to maintain their independence, access essential services, and engage socially. The availability and nature of transportation services vary across different senior living settings, reflecting each environment's level of care and resident independence.


Seniors living In-Home typically retain the responsibility for arranging their transportation, whether by driving themselves or relying on family, friends, ridesharing, or community services for rides to shopping, medical appointments, and social events. This arrangement offers flexibility but requires a reliable support network to ensure seniors can safely reach their destinations and avoid feeling isolated.

Elderly woman being taken up ramp to senior shuttle

Communities designed for Independent Living often provide the perfect balance by offering residents the option to drive themselves or take advantage of complimentary transportation services. These services are typically scheduled for common needs like shopping trips, medical appointments, and participation in social events, facilitating a blend of independence and support that encourages active community engagement.


Similar to independent living, Assisted Living facilities offer complimentary transportation services with the added benefit of assistance to get to and from the vehicle to the desired location and coordination from the facility staff to manage scheduling and specific transportation needs.


In Nursing Home settings, where residents may have significant health concerns that require regular medical attention, transportation services focus primarily on ensuring access to medical appointments and treatments. These services often include assistance from staff to help residents safely travel to and from their appointments, providing a crucial link to necessary healthcare services and supporting the overall well-being of residents.


Understanding the specific ADL and IADL support offered across different senior housing options allows families to make informed decisions that align with their loved ones' needs, preferences, and the level of independence or care required. This careful consideration ensures that transitions between living environments are made with confidence, securing the best possible outcome for older adults at every stage of their care journey.

Key Questions to Determine ADL and IADL Support in Senior Facilities

When exploring senior living options, it’s essential to understand precisely how each facility supports the Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living. Here are some targeted questions to ask facility representatives to ensure you get the detailed information needed for each ADL and IADL.

GeriScope ADL and IADL Senior Housing Support Questions
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Questions to Assess a Housing Option’s Support Services for the Six Activities of Daily Living


  1. Bathing: Can you describe how assistance with bathing is provided? What is the procedure if a resident needs additional help?

  2. Dressing: What level of help do you offer for dressing? Do you provide support for selecting clothes or just physical assistance?

  3. Eating: How do you accommodate residents who need help with eating? Are there staff members dedicated to assisting during mealtimes?

  4. Transferring: What kind of assistance is available for residents who need help moving from a bed to a chair, or vice versa?

  5. Toileting: Please explain how your facility assists residents with toileting. How do you ensure privacy and dignity during this process?

  6. Continence: What procedures and accommodations are in place for residents who require help managing continence?


8 Questions to Assess a Housing Option’s Support Services for the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living


  1. Correctly Using Communication Tools: How do you support residents who have difficulties using phones or computers to communicate with family and friends?

  2. Shopping for Goods and Services: Do you offer assistance or transportation for shopping and errands? How does the shopping trip process work?

  3. Preparing Meals: Can residents prepare their own meals if they wish, or is there a meal plan? How flexible are dining options?

  4. Cleaning and Maintaining the Residence: What housekeeping services do you provide? Are there options for personalizing cleaning schedules?

  5. Doing the Laundry: Is laundry service included for all residents? Can residents do their laundry independently if they prefer?

  6. Managing Medications: How do you assist with medication management? Are there pharmacists or nurses involved in the process?

  7. Handling Finances: What support do you offer for residents who need help managing their finances?

  8. Arranging Transportation: What transportation services are available? How can residents schedule trips for appointments or leisure?


These questions aim to give a comprehensive understanding of the level and type of care provided, ensuring the facility can meet the specific needs of your loved one. It’s also important to discuss how these services are adapted as a resident’s needs evolve over time, ensuring a suitable fit for the long term.

Matching ADL and IADL Needs with the Right Support Services

Selecting the right senior housing option involves matching an individual’s specific needs with the appropriate support services. By understanding the distinctions in how each housing option addresses ADLs and IADLs, families can ensure their loved ones are placed in an environment that best supports their care requirements, fostering a sense of well-being and dignity.


This deep dive into support services sets the stage for our next post, which will explore the financial aspects of senior housing. Understanding the costs associated with each option and potential funding sources will further empower families to make informed decisions in the best interest of their aging loved ones.


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