Activities of Daily Living (“ADLs”): What They Are and How They Affect Your Claim

By: Disability Group 

If you have not already, you will likely have to fill out a Disability Report for the Social Security Administration describing, among other things, what you do on a day-to-day basis.  Should your case require you to attend a hearing before an administrative law judge, he or she may also ask questions about how you spend your day. This information is referred to as your activities of daily living (“ADLs”).

What are activities of daily living?

ADLs comprise of the activities that you perform on an average day. The judge will be particularly interested what household chores, if any, you are able to perform such as vacuuming, gardening, washing dishes, preparing meals and doing laundry as well as leisure activities such as reading or watching television.  It is important to mention if anyone assists you with your ADLs, including doing them for you entirely. 

How do they affect your claim?

A claimant’s ability to perform ADLs is just one of the factors a judge may consider in determining disability.  The judge is not interested in your personal life.  Instead these questions are used to determine what you’re able to do at home as this will reflect what you may be able to do should you try to return to work.

In many instances, these questions are also used to test your credibility.  As such, it is important to be honest and not exaggerate what you are or are not able to do.  The judge will be looking for inconsistent statements. For example, a claimant who testifies that he experiences great pain when standing for longer than five minutes, but is able to weed his backyard will not appear credible in the eyes of the administrative law judge.

What is the administrative law judge looking for?

The judge will be looking for honest and detailed statements in regards to what you do on an average day. Being detailed is important.  Although you may be able to load a dishwasher, this is much different than washing a load of dishes by hand. Similarly, stating that you prepare meals is much different than stating you microwave most of your meals, but are able to cook some meals with a pot as long as you can sit down every few minutes.

If you require extra assistance in performing even basic activities of daily living such as showering or putting on clothes, be sure to let your attorney know as this is information that the judge should definitely hear.

General statements of doing nothing will not help your case and will cause you to lose credibility in the eyes of the judge.  Again, the details matter. Spending all day in bed because you are in pain is not the same as “doing nothing.”

Be sure to speak with your attorney before the hearing if you have any questions of what will be asked of you at the hearing.