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Glossary of Senior Living Terms

Senior Living Glossary

Last updated: September 15, 2015

Senior living, senior housing and senior care can open a whole new world to families. There are different levels of care--depending on your loved one's needs--and various options, depending on a senior's health, age and financial status.

The A Place for Mom Senior Living Glossary is designed to give you a clear understanding of commonly used terms that might come up during your search for senior housing and care.

Discover how senior living terms have changed over the years and refer to the glossary below for a definition of each term. 

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A seal of approval given by an autonomous governing body to a community or service provider. To become accredited, the community or provider must meet specific requirements set by the accreditation entity and is then generally required to undergo a thorough review process by a team of evaluators to ensure certain standards of quality. The accrediting organizations are independent, not government agencies or regulatory bodies. Some examples of accreditation bodies for the senior housing and care industry include:

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

This term refers to day-to-day activities such as bathing, eating, grooming, dressing, toileting, administering medication, moving around and many other self-care or maintenance tasks associated with daily living. Wikipedia: Activities of Daily Living

Administration on Aging (AOA)

The AoA is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Administration educates the elderly and family members about benefits and services available to them. Resources:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Passed by Congress in 1980, this law establishes a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability. Resources: Wikipedia: Americans with Disabilities Act

Assisted Living Facilities (ALF)

There are over 28,000 assisted living communities in the US alone. Assisted living is a housing option for seniors who cannot live independently and need help with medications and daily living activities, such as bathing, grooming, eating, dressing and going to the bathroom. Assisted living facilities are referred to as ALFs in the senior living industry.

Adult Day Care

Adult Day Services offer structured programs with stimulating social activities, health-related and rehabilitation services for seniors who are physically or emotionally disabled and need a protective environment during the day. Participants are usually brought to the center in the morning and leave in the evening. Resources: Find adult day care near you

Aging In Place

A concept that advocates allowing a resident to choose to remain in his/her home regardless of the physical and/or mental decline that may occur with the aging process. Resources: | Wikipedia: Aging in Place

Alzheimer's Disease

A progressive, neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of function and death of nerve cells in several areas of the brain, leading to loss of mental functions such as memory and learning. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Area Agencies on Aging

The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging's primary mission is to build the capacity of its members to help older persons and persons with disabilities live with dignity and choices in their homes and communities for as long as possible. Find your local Area on Aging

Board and Care Homes

Board and care homes typically provide seniors with the same services available in larger assisted living communities; the difference is that these facilities are "regular" houses in residential neighborhoods that are equipped, adapted and staffed to care for a small number of seniors. The term "board and care home" is most commonly used in California. In other states, these homes may go by other names including "residential care homes" or "group homes." Resource: More about Board & Care Homes


65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the U.S. adult population providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged. The word "caregiver" refers to the primary person in charge of caring for an individual with special needs, usually associated with Alzheimer's disease. This person is usually a family member or designated healthcare professional.

Congregate Housing

Congregate housing is similar to Independent Living, except that it usually offers supportive services such as meals, housekeeping and transportation.


A court-appointed, legal representative of a person no longer capable of taking care of their financial and legal responsibilities themselves.

Continuum of Care

Full spectrum of care available at Continuing Care Retirement Communities which may include Independent Living, Assisted Living, Nursing Care, Home Health, Home Care, and Home and Community Based Services. Also see Continuing Care Retirement Community.

Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)

A community that offers several levels of assistance, including independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing care. These communities usually offer long-term contracts or written agreements between the resident and the community which offer a continuum of housing, services and health care system, usually all on one campus or site.

Convalescent Home

A convalescent home is generally where a patient can recover from an illness or injury with short-term care and then return home.


The severe loss of intellectual functions, such as thinking, remembering and reasoning. Dementia is not a disease itself but a group of symptoms that may accompany certain diseases or conditions. Symptoms may include changes in personality, mood and behavior. Dementia is irreversible when cause by disease or injury, but may be reversible when caused by drugs, alcohol, depression or hormone and vitamin imbalances.


Dementiaville is the world's first and only village for dementia patients. Resource: Learning From Dementiaville, a Pioneering Dementia Care Village

Doll Therapy

Doll therapy is a form of Alzheimer's therapy where patients can use dolls that symbolize people. Resources: Pros and Cons of Doll Therapy

Durable Power of Attorney

Designates any proficient adult(s) to see to an individual's affairs should they become either mentally or physically incapacitated. It is imperative to keep good, clear records of such agreements and recommended that you have a lawyer draft any durable power of attorney.

Green House Project

The Green House Project is a non-profit focusing on environmentally-friendly and sustainable assisted living hosing. Resource: Green House Project: The Next Big Thing in Long-Term Care

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

This act states the requirements that a long term care policy must follow in order that the premiums paid may be deducted as medical expenses and benefits not paid be considered as taxable income.

Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)

An organized system for providing comprehensive health care in a specific geographic area to a voluntarily enrolled group of members.

Home Health Care

Provision of medical and nursing services from licensed providers and professionals in an individual's own home.

Hospice Care

Philosophy and approach to providing comfort and care at end of life rather than providing heroic lifesaving measures. Hospice care can include medical, counseling and social services. Most hospice care is in-home, while specialized hospices or hospitals also provide these services.

Independent Living

Independent living is when an elderly person still has the physical and mental capacity to live independently but wants companionship from others his/her age. Independent living offer specific services and amenities that cater to senior citizens and promote active, healthy senior lifestyles for the golden years. Independent living is not an option for someone who cannot care for him/herself.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

Unlike Activities of Daily Living, which are necessary for fundamental functioning, IADLs are not necessary and are the activities that let an individual live independently in a community, such as transportation and paying bills. Wikipedia: Instrumental ADLS

Life Care Community

A Continuing Care Retirement Community that offers an insurance type contract and provides all levels of care. It often includes payment for acute car and physician visits. Little or no change is made in monthly fees, regardless of the level of medical care required by the resident. The only fees that might change are the actual cost of living expenses.

Living Will

A written, legal document that states the wishes of an individual regarding life saving devices and procedures in the event of a terminal illness or injury and is no longer competent and able to make decisions on their own.

Long Term Care

Care given in the form of medical and support services to someone who has lost some or all of their capacity to function due to an illness or disability.

Long Term Care Ombudsman

A U.S. state-appointed official tasked with ensuring an organization or facility remains accountable to the public who is outside of its typical chain of command. - Locate an Ombudsman in Your State | The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care

Long Term Care Insurance (LTCI)

Insurance that pays for a succession of care giving services for the elderly or chronically ill. This care may be provided in a community or in an individual's home with a nurse or aide.

Managed Care

Is the partnership of insurance and a health care delivery system. The goal is to coordinate all health care services received to maximize benefits and minimize costs. Managed care plans use their own network of health care providers and a system of prior approval from a primary care doctor to achieve this goal. Providers include: specialists, hospitals skilled nursing facilities, therapists and home health care agencies.


Public assistance funded by individual states in the U.S. for people who are unable to pay for health care. Medicaid can only be accessed when all other assets and funds are depleted. There are income eligibility criteria that must be met to qualify.


A U.S. federal health insurance program for people 65 years and older and those with disabilities.

Medical Director

A staff medical director assumes overall responsibility for the formulation and implementation of all policies related to medical care. The medical director also coordinates with an individual's personal physician to ensure that the facility delivers the care that is prescribed. In some instances, the medical director may be a resident's primary physician.

Medication Management / Medication Administration

Formalized procedure with a written set of rules for the management of self-administered medicine. A program may include management of the timing and dosage for residents in assisted living, and could include coordination with a resident's personal physician.

Medigap Insurance / Medicare Supplemental Insurance

Private health insurance policies that supplement Medicare coverage, covering health care costs above those covered by Medicare Part A or Part B. Does not provide benefits for long term care, covering primarily hospital and doctor bills.

Montessori Method of Alzheimer's

This therapy for dementia involves creating lessons and activities specifically designed to engage the senses.


Status of ownership and/or operation characterized by government by community-based boards of trustees who are all volunteers. Board members donate their time and talents to ensure that a not-for-profit organization's approach to caring for older people responds to local needs. Not-for-profit homes and services turn any surplus income back into improving or expanding services for their clients or residents. Not-for-profits sometimes interact with Congress and federal agencies to further causes that serve the elderly.

Nursing Assistant

Provides personal care to residents, including bathing, dressing and toileting. Must be trained, tested and certified to provide care in nursing facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Nurse assistants typically work under the supervision of a Registered Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse.

Nursing Home

Facility licensed by the state that provides 24-hour nursing care, room and board, and activities for convalescent residents and those with chronic and/or long-term care illnesses. One step below hospital acute care. Regular medical supervision and rehabilitation therapy are mandated to be available, and nursing homes are eligible to participate in the Medicaid program. May be referred to as Nursing Facility or Convalescent Home. See also Skilled Nursing Facility.

Occupational Therapy

A creative activity prescribed for its effect in promoting recovery or rehabilitation. This is done to help individuals relearn activities of daily living and is generally administered by a licensed therapist.

Palliative Care

An area of health care that focuses on providing pain relief and preventing chronic suffering for patients. The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life in all areas of a patient's life including physical, emotional, spiritual and social concerns that arise with advanced illness.

Person-Centered Assisted Living or Dementia Care

The domains of the operational framework of person-centered assisted living include:

  • Person-centered core values of personhood, respect and dignity, autonomy, choice and independence, and privacy
  • Relationships and a sense of belonging (community)
  • Governance (ownership, board of directors)
  • Leadership
  • Workforce practices
  • Meaningful life and engagement
  • Services
  • Environment
  • Accountability

Purpose Built Community

Purpose built communities are tailored to individual community needs. The model is run by a non-profit, Purpose Built Communities.

Physical Therapy

The treatment of disease or injury, by physical and mechanical means (as massage, regulated exercise, water, light, heat, and electricity.) Physical therapists plan and administer prescribed physical therapy treatment programs for residents to help restore their function and strength.

Registered Nurse (RN)

A Registered Nurse is a nurse who has both passed a state board examination and is licensed by a state agency to practice nursing. A minimum of two years of college is required in addition to passage of the state exams. The RN plans for resident care by assessing resident needs, developing and monitoring care plans in conjunction with physicians, as well as executing highly technical, skilled nursing treatments.


Therapeutic care for persons requiring intensive physical, occupational, or speech therapy.

Reminiscence Therapy 

Reminiscence therapy is defined by the American Psychological Association as "the use of life histories to improve psychological well-being. Wikipedia: Reminiscence therapy

Residents' Rights

Legal rights granted by the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law, which requires nursing homes to promote and protect the rights of each resident. Specific rights vary by state, but include dignity, medical privacy, and visitation rights.

Residential Care Homes

Residential care homes offer personalized service to small groups of adults. These homes provide lodging, meal services and assistance with daily living activities. Other terms include adult family homes, board and care homes, or personal care homes. Resources: Find a residential care home near you

Respite Care

Temporary relief from duties for caregivers, ranging from several hours to days. May be provided in-home or in a residential care setting such as an assisted living facility or nursing home.

Sandwich Generation

The Sandwich generation refers to those who care for their aging parents while caring their own children. Wikipedia: Sandwich Generation

Senior Apartments

Senior apartments refer to age-restricted multi-unit housing with self-contained living units for older adults, usually aged 55+ who are able to care for themselves. Senior apartments do not offer additional services such as meals or transportation. Find Senior Apartments Near You

Senior Move Manager

Senior Move Managers are professionals specializing in helping with the transition from a long-time home into senior living. Their membership organization is the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy treats Sensory Integration Disorder (also called Sensory Processing Disorder), a condition when we our sensory inputs are not processed correctly.

University-Based Retirement Community (UBRC)

These are senior communities that allow older adults to pursue higher education. Read more here.

Universal Design

Universal Design refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities.

Veteran's Aid and Attendance (VA Benefits)

A supplemental income provided by the Department of Veteran's Affairs available to veterans and their spouses. The veteran must have served at least one day during wartime. Resources: Guide to Using VA Benefits for Assisted Living |

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