Senior Living – A Glossary of Common Terms

Senior Living – A Glossary of Common Terms

If you’ve just begun the process of looking into the best type of care for your aging parent or other loved one, then you’ve already come across many words, phrases or assisted living types that you’ve never heard of before.

Sorting through unfamiliar terms while you’re researching an important topic is frustrating. When you throw in acronyms and other jargon it makes it even worse, sometimes causing the whole effort to be abandoned from a feeling of overwhelm or helplessness.

Having the right information at your fingertips can save you a lot of time and money, so forfeiting your research on senior living is the last thing you want to do—and it doesn’t have to be that difficult! The information you gather will have a huge impact on your loved one’s future, we created this post to help you easily navigate all the terms that you’ll encounter along the way.

Here is your handy glossary of common terms to senior living:


Accreditation is a seal given to a senior living establishment once it has met specific quality requirements set by an autonomous governing body or a community service provider. Some examples of such accreditation entities are: CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) and The Joint Commission.

How This Helps You

Knowing that an establishment is accredited and who has accredited it helps assure you of the level and type of quality your loved one will experience at that care facility. It can give you a deeper assurance of the high standards of care provided.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

For anyone residing in an assisted living establishment, the activities of daily living are simply the fundamental behaviors that your loved one engages in on a daily basis.

Examples of ADLs are:

  • Eating
  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Grooming
  • Mouth Care
  • Toileting
  • Climbing Stairs
  • Walking
  • Transferring to Bed/Chair

How This Helps You

Assessing your loved one’s ADLs will help you decide which activities your loved one can attend to on their own, and what they will need assistance with. Knowing exactly what assistance your loved one needs will help you escape extra care charges for activities they can still perform on their own.

Assisted Living Facilities (ALF)

An assisted living facility houses seniors unable to live on their own, and offers meals and care on a regular basis. There are many variations of assisted living facilities with different specialties or levels of care, but most that fall under this category offer — at the very least — housing, meals and assistance with daily tasks. According to the National Center for Assisted Living there are over 1 million seniors in the U.S. in assisted living facilities.

How This Helps You

Under the wide umbrella of “assisted living” you can now decide which more specialized type of facility will best suit your loved one’s needs.

Theses are all types of assisted living facilities:

  • Assisted Living
  • Residential Care
  • Board and Care Home
  • Memory Care Assisted Living
  • Nursing Home
  • Convalescent Home
  • Hospice Facility

Adult Day Care

Adult day care is a facility that offers seniors daytime assistance and does not include overnight lodging. These establishments usually include care such as rehabilitation, disability care, social activities and other required assistance before a senior returns home at the end of the day.

How This Helps You

If you choose to keep your loved one at home, or hire in-home care, this option is useful for those days when you can’t be around to care for your loved one, or when your caregiver needs a day or two off.

Aging in Place

This term refers to the idea that promotes seniors living at the home they are accustomed to, rather than seeking assisted living in an alternative living arrangement.

How This Helps You

As you run across articles that bring this up, you’ll immediately know the concept they are promoting.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. More officially, it is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, which involves the death of brain cells and causes symptoms such as memory loss and learning disabilities.

How This Helps You

If your loved one’s behavior and temperament has changed from how you’ve always known them to be, then understanding more about dementia and Alzheimer’s may help you assess whether they are facing this condition. There are facilities that specialize in memory loss assistance, as well as support groups and organizations for the families struggling with the challenge of those with dementia.

Helpful Links:

Area Agencies of Aging

The main goal of The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging is to help seniors and those with disabilities live with freedom and dignity in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. Some of their work listed on their site includes:

  • Helping Washington set priorities
  • Building the capacity of their members
  • Raising the visibility of AAAs and Title VI programs nationwide
  • Offering training and educational events
  • Working to drive excellence in the fields of I&R/A
  • Transportation
  • Livable communities and volunteerism

How This Helps You

If you are making plans to transition your loved one into assisted living but foresee that they may be able to stay at home for another year or more, the Area Agencies of Aging offers resources, information and assistance to make this possible.

Board and Care Homes / Residential Care Homes / Group Homes

At Board and Care Homes you’ll find care similar to large assisted living facilities, but given within the walls of an average-sized house. This provides a cozier atmosphere and more family-like feel for seniors, although it usually means they will be living in a bedroom rather than a private apartment of their own. The house is staffed to care for a small group, and is modified to accommodate seniors and those with disabilities.

How This Helps You

If your loved one is shy of groups, this may be an easier transition for them than moving into a large assisted living facility.


Caregiver is the term assigned to anyone who is providing primary care for a person who is ill, disabled or aging. This could be a family member, a friend or a hired healthcare professional. Assisted living facilities have caregivers on staff to assist their residents, and for in-home services individual caregivers are hired to give one-on-one care and attention to those still living in their residence.

How This Helps You

Whether you are looking into an assisted living facility or to hire a caregiver for in-home assistance, it’s important to review the certification credentials of those who will be handling important tasks such as your loved one’s medication, treatments and emergency situations. Proper training will also ensure that your loved one is assisted with dignity and respect along with the necessary knowledge of health practices.

Congregate Housing

Congregate Housing is very similar to independent living but offers some added daily benefits such as meals, housekeeping and transportation.

How This Helps You

If your loved one is still healthy and active but wants a richer social life by living around people their age, congregate housing is an option that frees up even more of their time by handling basic daily tasks.


A Conservator is a legal representative that has been court-appointed to handle the financial and legal responsibilities of someone who is no longer capable of taking care of those necessities themselves.

How This Helps You

If your loved one is losing the ability to make vital decisions on their own behalf — whether due to dementia, or other reasons — this may be a necessary step to take.

Continuum of Care / Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)

The Continuum of Care is a full range of care that is offered at specific establishments. This includes everything to help someone through their progression of aging and the various increased stages of care they will need along the way. For instance, facilities that are Continuing Care Retirement Communities are equipped to help a resident who comes in simply needing housing and social opportunities to then transition into assistance or medical care at increased levels. Instead of only offering one level of care, continuing care facilities offer long-term contracts and a wide spectrum of care and services provided.

How This Helps You

Choosing a continuing care retirement community for your loved one may save you time and effort, freeing you from the need to find them a new facility at every stage of aging. They can easily transition from one stage to the next in the same facility, and simply receive greater and more specialized levels of care as needed.

Convalescent Home

A Convalescent Home’s primary purpose is to help a patient recover from an illness, surgery or injury on a short-term basis. The goal is to help them heal and then release them to return to their own residence.

How This Helps You

If you’re interested in a long-term living situation for your love one, this is probably not the right option, but is a great resource for someone who needs professional care and consistent medical attention for a short period of time.


Dementia is the decrease or loss of cognitive functions such as thinking, learning, remembering and reasoning. It is common among aging individuals, and may begin to show in seniors through changes in their personality, abnormal moods and strange behavior. While certain causes such as injury or disease may render dementia permanent, some dementia caused by depression, drugs, alcohol or hormone and vitamin imbalances may be reversed.

How This Helps You

If you recognize changes in your loved one’s personality or behavior, you may want to seek counsel from their physician as to whether it’s a dementia-related symptom. There are many resources and therapy options for those with dementia, as well as assisted living facilities with staff and living arrangements tailored to give customized care for memory-loss residents.

Helpful Links:

Durable Power of Attorney

Durable Power of Attorney designates a proficient adult or adults to look after and make decisions regarding a person’s affairs, should the person become mentally or physically incapacitated.

How This Helps You

Helping your loved one choose whom they would like to be their durable power of attorney far in advance will help ease stress and strain on family relationships. It is best to have clear records of this decision and the help of a lawyer in the process.

Helpful Links:

Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)

An HMO is a type of insurance plan that usually limits care to physicians who contract with the HMO, and generally won’t cover out-of-network care except in the case of emergency situations.

How This Helps You

This is one option of health insurance that is available. Knowing what health insurance your loved one has and what care their policy covers will be important when it comes to finding the right facility and getting necessary care funded.

Home Health Care

Home Health Care is another option for medical care and assistance that allows your loved one to continue to live at home. While caregivers are hired to help with daily activities and tasks such as grooming and eating, home health care brings in a licensed medical provider to give professional health and medical attention to your loved one.

How This Helps You

This is beneficial in situations where you or another caregiver are able to help with your loved one’s basic needs, but are not trained in certain in-home medical care they may also need.

Hospice Care

Hospice Care is designed to provide as much comfort and care nearing the end of someone’s life as possible, rather than opting for drastic life-saving measures. This is often employed for those with far-progressed conditions, and usually includes medical attention, counseling and social services. Hospice generally occurs in the comfort of the patient’s home, but there are hospice facilities or hospital wings available for this purpose as well.

How This Helps You

For these kinds of health situations, it is useful to know that hospice care is a viable option, and can be provided in-home or at an establishment that is already equipped for it.

Independent Living

When a senior still has the capacity to live on their own but realizes their need or desire to be more closely connected with others their own age, Independent Living is a useful option. Most often the format of Independent Living is an apartment-style community, but is occasionally set up as separate houses on one enclosed property. Independent Living communities usually offer amenities, actives and even lessons and field trips that interest the people within their community.

How This Helps You

If your love one has been getting increasingly isolated or doesn’t want the burden of taking care of a property on their own, yet still is able to take care of their own basic needs, independent living is a great option. It is cheaper than Assisted Living, and integrates them into a community of people at their own stage of life and interests.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

While ADLs are essential for seniors to function throughout their day, Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are less fundamental, but may be offered as well depending on the senior living facility you choose. IADLs usually include activities such as:

  • Transportation services
  • Paying bills
  • Banking
  • Personal cooking
  • Managing medications
  • Telephone assistance
  • Laundry
  • Housework

How This Helps You

Knowing the difference between ADLs and IADLs is important, with the former usually included in a facility’s fixed rate, and the other often incurring extra charges. Take time to talk to the staff about whether IADLs are included in the base rate and, if not, what the fees are for the IADLs that your loved one needs.

Life Care Community

Life Care Communities offer a contract that is insurance-based and offers all levels of care within its facility. Services such as transportation to doctor appointments and other care are usually included in the base rate at a Life Care Community, and changing the level of medical care usually doesn’t change the price of a resident’s rate.

How This Helps You

If your loved one is experiencing a medical condition that requires frequent visits to specialists or more specific medical care, this might be a better option than a facility that will continually increase or add fees depending on medical care and services you need to add down the road.

Living Will

A Living Will is a legal, written document that specifies the wishes of an individual should an illness or injury render them incapable of making decisions regarding any life-saving devices or procedures that may be offered. A Living Will differs from a “Last Will and Testament” which goes into effect after the individual has passed away and deals with their wishes regarding their estate, burial, etc.

How This Helps You

It is beneficial for everyone to have a Living Will. It ensures that you are treated the way you wish even if you are not conscious or coherent enough to make in-the-moment decisions of this nature. A Living Will also lessens the load any family or loved one would feel in making such decisions. Completing this in advance will save friends and family the burden of difficult decisions made without being sure of what you would have wanted.

Helpful Links:

Long-Term Care

Long-term care is given to those with an illness or disability who do not have the ability to care for themselves. This can include medical services or non-medical support.

How This Helps You

Long-term care usually goes beyond the basic needs met through assisted living, and may even include skilled medical care. If you feel that your loved one is in need of consistent medical attention, a long term care facility may be a better choice than a basic assisted living or independent living community.

Long-Term Care Ombudsman

An Ombudsman is a state-appointed official who investigates individual complaints of maladministration in order to ensure that organizations and facilities are accountable to the public.

How This Helps You

Once you choose a facility, if there is ever a time that you suspect they are not treating residents well or according to the standards they’ve claimed, calling in your local Ombudsman will ensure that accountability and justice are upheld.

Helpful Links:

Long-Term Care Insurance (LTCI)

Long-Term Care Insurance covers care for those who are elderly or chronically ill and in need of progressive levels of care. Care that is covered by LTCI can include care communities or care at an individual’s home. The catch is that LTCI is expensive if you wait too long, so getting an LTCI policy as young as possible is crucial to its being a worthwhile investment.

How This Helps You

Massive care expenses can be avoided if you are ahead of the game with Long Term Care Insurance. Starting young, as early as 40, is the best way to go. Thinking ahead and preparing for your future will save you money and countless hours trying to find solutions to circumstances you didn’t foresee.

Managed Care

Managed Care occurs when an individual engages a managing company that coordinates healthcare and monitors the costs for the patient. The individual agrees to limit their physicians and facilities to only those assigned by the company, and the company then monitors the cost and quality of the care the patient receives.

How This Helps You

If you find a good managing company, they could save you time and money by locating doctors and care resources on your behalf as well as finding good deals. However, the companies that will get you the best deals only work with certain healthcare organizations, so this may limit your options in healthcare.

Helpful Links:


Medicaid is funding that is offered by state governments to assist those who are unable to afford healthcare. This is a last resort that can be sought only after every other resource or asset is depleted for care. Certain criteria must be met in order to receive Medicaid assistance.

How This Helps You

When all other funding options have run out, look into Medicaid. Planning ahead, saving or pooling resources is always best, but sometimes circumstances take us by surprise and Medicaid is set up to help in those times.

Helpful Links:


Many people get Medicaid and Medicare mixed up, but they are actually two very different things. While Medicaid is state-funded and offered to anyone who has depleted all resources and is in need of healthcare, Medicare is funded by the Federal government and is specifically for those who are 65+ or have disabilities.

How This Help You

If you or your loved one are over 65 years of age or have a disability, then Medicare funds may be available to help with your healthcare costs. Check out their website below and see if you qualify for Medicare and the kind of care they cover.

Helpful Links:

Medical Director

The medical director within a staff oversees and assumes responsibility for all the medical care conducted. They will formulate and implement policies related to medical care and coordinate with an individual’s doctors to create a healthcare plan tailored to their needs. In some cases, an individual’s physician may also be their medical director, depending on the type of facility the individual resides or receives treatment in.

How This Helps You

Finding someone you trust to be your loved one’s medical director is a huge part of the process. Take into consideration this person’s certification, their track record, what their peers say about them, and the opinion of their former patients.

Helpful Links:

Medication Management / Medication Administration

Medication Management (or Administration) is a set of written rules to be followed for the management of an individual’s necessary medications. This is in reference to self-administered medication, but many senior living facilities offer to assist with medication management when needed. Medication management can include creating a procedure of the timing, dosage, and method of administration and could include an individual’s physician in creating the right procedure.

How This Helps You

Administering medication is very serious issue and must be done as prescribed by a physician for proper results. A slight change in the dosage or timing of medication can create a huge change in your loved one’s wellbeing. Once you have the management procedure established, you may want to take the time to assess if your loved one is able to adequately manage it on their own, or if someone else should assist with this process.

Medigap Insurance / Medicare Supplemental Insurance

Medigap and similar insurance options are private company insurance policies that exist to supplement Medicare coverage that is not included in Medicare Part A or Part B. While this can assist with needs such as hospital stays and various doctor bills, it does not cover long-term care benefits.

How This Helps You

Understanding where Medigap Insurance can assist you, and where it is limited, will help you choose from the type of aid available that will truly assist your situation. If your primary need is assistance with hospital stays or doctor bills, this is good option to look into for supplemental funds.

Helpful Links:

Montessori Method for Alzheimer’s

The Montessori Method is a therapy used for individuals with Alzheimer’s which uses lessons and activities crafted to engage the senses, and therefore give the brain more to engage in and turn into long-term memory. Montessori has been said to be successful with dementia patients where it has been used, and has even helped decrease anxiety.

How This Helps You

If your loved one struggles with dementia, finding the right type of treatment or care is important. This can depend as much on the individual’s personality as the stage of the dementia. Montessori is another option for you to look into, and assess whether it’s a therapy option that will bring value to your loved one’s life.

Helpful Links:

Nursing Assistant

A Nursing Assistant is a staff member who assists residents in a variety of care needs. These needs can include bathing, dressing, toileting, mobility, medication management and more. Nurse assistants generally operate under the supervision of a registered nurse, and are tested and certified to work in facilities that run Medicaid or Medicare programs.

How This Helps You

While you’re touring facilities, ensuring that staff are properly certified is something you should have on your check list. Ask about the certification process of the staff, and about the level of supervision given for those who have lower certifications.

Nursing Home

While independent living facilities and assisted living facilities are more for people who are still able to do many activities on their own, Nursing Homes provide more consistent and in-depth care for individuals who need 24-hour care from professional nurses. Nursing Homes offer room and board, with some room-share options, and activities for those with chronic or long-term illnesses. While assisted living is set up with check-ups visiting physicians, Nursing Homes have regular medical supervision, rehabilitation options, and are considered just a level below acute hospital care.

How This Helps You

Knowing the different levels of care facilities available will help you choose the level of care that your loved one would benefit most from. If your loved one has an illness that needs consistent care but is not serious enough to require a hospital stay, then a Nursing Home may be the right option.

Registered Nurse (RN)

A Registered Nurse has been licensed by a state agency to practice nursing. To do this they must pass a state board examination and have accomplished a minimum of two years of college, complete with state exams. Once they are hired and established in a facility, they generally take on the tasks of assessing a resident’s daily needs, monitoring their health and care plans with physicians involved, and administering technical treatments.

How This Helps You

Knowing the hierarchy of the medical staff will give you a better sense of who should be performing specific tasks. A certified RN should handle the highly technical treatments.

Palliative Care

Palliative Care is designed to relieve pain and chronic suffering for patients. This is done by seeking to improve the quality of life for individuals in every area of their lives and working through concerns that arise during advanced illnesses. With a Palliative approach, emotional, spiritual, physical and social concerns are all addressed and cared for.

How This Helps You

From the outside looking in, many people only see the physical pain someone is enduring in an illness, but there is so much more going on inside a person when they are facing an illness. Emotions, spiritual beliefs, and social needs all become wrapped up in how the illness is addressed. Palliative care may provide relief and comfort for your loved one and the entire family involved.

Respite Care

Respite care provides your caregiver a much-needed break by bringing in temporary help. This could be anywhere from several hours to several days, and may be in the form of in-home care or within an assisted living facility or nursing home.

How This Helps You

Besides adult day care, respite care is another useful way to give yourself or your regular caregiver rest from the constant care of a loved one.

Senior Apartments

Senior apartments are restricted specifically to tenants who are 55 and over, and are still able to live independently in terms of daily assistance and care.

How This Helps You

While senior apartments do not offer services such as meals or transportation, they do offer a community of individuals at the same stage of life, and therefore are usually more the pace (and volume level) that seniors desire.