A Glossary of Senior Living Terminology

Click below to expand and learn more about some of the most common senior living terms.

Also referred to as an Active Adult community. A type of community designed specifically for adults ages 55 and older that offers the opportunity to enjoy your retirement with a maintenance-free lifestyle. Residents must meet the age requirement in order to own and rent property in this type of community. (See also: Active Adult Lifestyle.)


Assisted Living

Also known as residential care. In general, a state-licensed program offered at a residential community with services that include meals, laundry, housekeeping, medication reminders, and assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). The exact definition will vary from state to state, and a few states do not license assisted living facilities. Generally regarded as one to two steps below skilled nursing in the level of care. Approximately 90% of the country’s assisted living services are paid for with private funds, although some states have adopted Medicaid waiver programs.

Might also be referred to as personal care, board and care, residential care, boarding home, etc., although some states differentiate between their definition of “assisted living” and these other terms (e.g., Washington state recognizes and licenses “assisted living” facilities as well as “boarding homes.” Although licensed by the state of Washington, a boarding home does not meet the higher physical plant and service requirements necessary to be considered an assisted living facility). Explore what an assisted living care service can offer you.

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.

Home Health Care

Provision of medical and nursing services in the individual’s home by a licensed provider.

Hospice Care

Care and comfort measures provided to those with a terminal illness and their families – it can include medical care, counseling, and social services. Most hospice care is furnished in home, while specialized hospices or hospitals also provide this service.

Independent Living

A multi-unit senior housing development that may provide supportive services such as meals, housekeeping, social activities and transportation (can also be referred to as Congregate Housing, Supportive Housing, or Retirement Community). Independent living typically encourages socialization by providing meals in a central dining area and scheduled social programs. At The Estates at Carpenters, we offer an active independent living lifestyle. (See also: Senior Apartment Home.)

Long-Term Care

Provision of services to persons of any age who are afflicted with chronic health impairments.

Managed Care

There is currently no standard definition of managed care, but it can best be described as a combination of insurance and a health care delivery system. The basic goal of managed care 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.

Occupational Therapy

The assessment and process to help individuals relearn activities of daily living, generally administered by a licensed therapist. This type of rehabilitation includes aid in dressing, eating, using the bathroom, picking up objects, brushing teeth, and other activities that require strength and dexterity.

Palliative Care

A medical caregiving approach with the goal of optimizing quality of life and easing the pain and suffering of individuals with chronic and terminal illnesses. Palliative Care can be administered with both curable intent and during end-of-life treatment.

Physical Therapy

Process that includes individualized programs of exercise to improve physical mobility, often administered following a stroke, fall or accident. Physical therapists plan and administer prescribed physical therapy treatment programs and rehabilitation for residents to help restore their function and strength.

Senior Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation and therapeutic care for persons requiring intensive physical, occupational or speech therapy.

Skilled Nursing Facility

An inpatient, full-spectrum rehabilitation and medical treatment center for older adults requiring acute skilled nursing care services. Services may include physical, occupational and speech therapy, along with medication management and administration, as well as other health care services. (See also: Nursing Home.)

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy, or speech language pathology, is a category of rehabilitation therapy administered by a trained professional that works to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, cognitive communication, social communication, and swallowing disorders.


55+ Community

Also referred to as an Active Adult community. A type of community designed specifically for adults ages 55 and older that offers the opportunity to enjoy your retirement with a maintenance-free lifestyle. Residents must meet the age requirement in order to own and rent property in this type of community. (See also: Active Adult Lifestyle.)

Active Adult Lifestyle

The type of lifestyle found in a 55+ community. This type of lifestyle is for independent adults who are capable of managing activities of daily living (ADLs) without any support from medical professionals or support staff.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Everyday activities include bathing, grooming, eating, toileting and dressing. Older adults frequently need help with ADLs, which is where assisted living might come in.

Aging in Place

An individual makes a conscious decision to remain in their living environment as they grow older and includes having services, care and support in the residence as well should they be needed as the aging process progresses. Moving to a senior living community can help stimulate the mind and keep seniors physically active, which can be issues seniors encounter when choosing to age in place.

Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)

Also called a Life Plan Community. This type of housing is planned and operated to provide a continuum of accommodations and services for older adults, including but not limited to independent living, congregate housing, assisted living, and skilled nursing care.

A CCRC resident contract often involves either an entry fee or buy-in fee in addition to the monthly service charges, which may change according to the medical services required. Entry fees may be partially or fully refundable. The fee is used primarily as a method of privately financing the development of the project and for payment for future health care. Whenever another level of care is needed, a CCRC contract makes it easy to transition to that care service within the same community. CCRCs are typically licensed by the state. (See also: Lifecare Community.)


The process of moving from a larger home to a smaller home to cut back on material items and home maintenance. Many seniors downsize for easier living.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

Day-to-day tasks such as preparing meals, shopping, managing money, taking medication and housekeeping.


Each community may have its own definition of a kitchenette, but generally floor plans with a kitchenette include a sink, cabinet space, a mini-refrigerator, and maybe a microwave. In contrast, a full kitchen would usually have a burner unit, sink, cabinets, full-size refrigerator, and possibly a microwave or stove.

Lifecare Contract

Also called a Type A contract. Lifecare is a type of financial contract within a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), also known as a Life Plan Community. This insurance-type contract provides all levels of care. It often includes payment for acute care and physician visits. Little or no change is made in the monthly fee, regardless of the level of medical care required by the resident, except for cost-of-living increases.

Medication Management/Medication Administration

Formalized procedure with a written set of rules for the management of self-administered medicine, as in an assisted living setting. A program may include management of the timing and dosage for residents and could include coordination with a resident’s personal physician. The resident must take the medication themself. For instance, the facility can remind the resident that they need to give themself the medicine injection, but the facility cannot perform the actual injection itself.

Not-for-Profit Senior Living Community

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 put any surplus income back into improving or expanding services for their clients or residents. Many not-for-profit organizations are often associated with religious denominations and fraternal groups. Not-for-profits may also interact with Congress and federal agencies to further causes that serve the elderly.

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 a nursing facility or convalescent home. (See also: Skilled Nursing Facility.)


Charge Nurse

An RN or LPN who is responsible for the supervision of a unit within a nursing facility. The charge nurse schedules and supervises nursing staff and provides care to facility residents.

Director of Nursing (DON)

A DON oversees all nursing staff in a nursing home and is responsible for formulating nursing policies and monitoring the quality of care delivered, as well as the facility’s compliance with federal and state regulations pertaining to nursing care.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

LPNs are trained to administer technical nursing procedures as well as provide a range of health care services, such as administration of medication and changing of dressings. One year of post-high school education and passage of a state licensing exam are required to become an LPN.

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 the facility delivers the care that is prescribed. In some instances, the medical director may be a resident’s primary physician.

Nurse Assistant

Provides the most 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 work under the supervision of a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.


An official who works to investigate and resolve individuals’ complaints against maladministration and malpractice in senior living communities and other public facilities.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Graduate-trained nurse who has both passed a state board examination and is licensed by a state agency to practice nursing. 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. A minimum of two years of college is required in addition to passage of the state exams.

Senior Living Consultant

Also called a senior living advisor or elder care advisor. Guides and advises individuals and their families through the process of finding the right fit in senior living for their lifestyle, health care needs, and budget.


Alzheimer's Disease

Degenerative age-related disease that impairs an individual’s cognitive ability. Symptoms may include forgetfulness, wandering, and inability to recognize others. The disease is caused by neuron dysfunction and death in specific brain regions responsible for cognitive functions. Both genetic and environmental factors likely play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s and related dementias. (See also: Dementia.)

Developmental Disability (DD)

An affliction characterized by chronic physical and mental disabilities, which may include cerebral palsy, retardation, thyroid problems, seizures, and quadriplegia.


A progressive neurological, cognitive or medical disorder that affects memory, judgment and cognitive powers. Alzheimer’s disease falls under this umbrella and is considered a form of dementia.


ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is a law passed by Congress in 1990 that establishes a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.


Describes the ability of an individual to move and/or walk around.

Dual Eligibility

This term refers to individuals who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. To be considered dually eligible, residents must be enrolled in Medicare Part A and/or Medicare Part B.


A Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) is an organized system for providing comprehensive health care in a specific geographic area to a voluntarily enrolled group of members.

Long-Term Care Insurance

Privately issued insurance policy that covers the cost of nursing home care, assisted living, and home health care. Premiums are based on age, health, length of deductible period, amount paid, and duration of benefits. Long-term care insurance currently pays only two% of national nursing home costs.


A jointly funded medical financial federal-state health insurance assistance program offering benefits to individuals with limited financial resources, the disabled, and the elderly. There are income eligibility criteria that must be met to qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid accounts for about 52% of the nation’s care costs and is the source of payment for almost 70% of residents in nursing homes. The person must have exhausted nearly all assets and be in a nursing facility that participates in this program. Medicaid can reimburse nursing facilities for the long-term care of qualifying seniors, and in some states, Medicaid pays for assisted living care through Medicaid waivers.


Nationwide medical insurance program administered by the Social Security Administration for individuals 65 and over and certain disabled people, regardless of income. Provides for hospital and nursing facility care (Part A) and physician services, therapies, and home health care (Part B).

Medigap 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.


Inability to ambulate or walk around; person is usually bedridden or hospitalized.

Resident Assessment

This is an evaluation of prospective senior living community residents that assesses an individual’s behavior, illnesses, communication abilities, dietary requirements, ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), ability to administer and manage medications, and any other lifestyle habits. This assessment will usually be conducted by a doctor, nurse, or trained admissions professional at the senior living community.

Advance Directive

A written statement of an individual’s wishes regarding medical treatment, often including a living will. The purpose of an advance directive is to make sure wishes are carried out should the individual become unable to communicate with medical professionals.

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