Senior Care: Glossary of Terms

senior careDefinitions to familiarize you with life in senior care communities.

If you are like the majority of people searching for nursing home care right now, you are in the middle of a crisis situation that requires you to act fast. When your loved one needs to move from the hospital, or even his long-time home, into a senior care situation, you can find yourself barraged with a whole new vocabulary surrounding senior care communities. This can be confusing, and it can hinder your ability to find that perfect nursing home as quickly as possible. Let us help you by offering definitions for some of the most common senior care terms.

Senior Care Terms: An Alphabetical Glossary

Active Adult Community

Active adult communities provide seniors with the opportunity to own their own homes while enjoying community with other relatively healthy seniors. With amenities such as pools, therapy rooms, workout facilities, hobby rooms and golf courses, younger seniors and those who don’t need organized assistance with activities of daily living can live a well-rounded life inside the community. These senior care communities are the least restrictive form of senior care. They typically limit residents by a minimum age requirement and little else. Disability accessible amenities are often included in homes and common areas.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Adults in senior care communities often need help with some number of self-care or maintenance activities such as dressing, bathing and eating. Nursing homes provide assistance with all ADLs, including toileting, medicine administration, and transferring, as well as things like money management, housework, laundry and meal prep.

Adult Day Care

Also called: Adult Day Services

Adult day cares are centers that provide daytime help and outings for seniors who would otherwise stay home alone. Family caregivers who provide in-home care to loved ones often utilize adult day services so they can go to work or care for children and know that their loved one is safe and socially active.

See also: Respite Care.

Aging in Place

Senior care comes in many different shapes and sizes. From assisted living to skilled nursing facilities, senior care communities offer different levels of care. As your loved one ages, he may need increasing levels of care. Aging in place is a philosophy followed by assisted living facilities and continuing care communities that allows him to stay in his preferred environment, with added adaptations, for the rest of his life.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease (also called Alzheimer disease and Alzheimer’s) is a form of degenerative brain disease experienced by people most commonly over the age of 65. A form of dementia, this cognitive impairment causes confusion and memory loss. It is difficult to deal with for many family members. If your loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, look for senior care communities that specialize in memory care or have a memory care wing to best meet her needs.

See also: Dementia, Cognitive Impairment, and Memory Care.

Assisted Living Facility (ALFs)

Assisted living facilities provide custodial care (help with common activities of daily living) to aging residents who do not need comprehensive or ongoing medical care. These senior care communities have become more popular over the past two decades because of their focus on autonomy and dignity for their residents. For more information, see


A caregiver meets the increasing needs of loved ones in a non-professional environment, usually the home. In-home caregiving still accounts for the majority of senior care today. Family members who provide care for a loved one in their home often need respite care and further assistance from adult day cares to remain personally healthy and free from the overwhelming stress that senior care can place on an already taxed family.

Cognitive Impairment

While a small loss of cognitive ability is expected as we age, cognitive impairment is a level of loss beyond that which is expected in the natural aging process. Diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s are common forms of cognitive impairment in the aging community. Many senior care communities provide special services for people with cognitive impairment in memory care wings.

See also: Memory Care.

Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)

Continuing care retirement communities provide different levels of care for seniors with varying needs and levels of autonomy. They are often large establishments that contain privately owned homes for active living retirement, an assisted living facility, and a skilled nursing home. This cornerstone of the "aging in place" movement offers continuity of residence to seniors who seek social interaction or who’s spouses have differing levels of need.

Custodial Care

Custodial care is the care provided to an elderly individual not related to medical care. Custodial care can include assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing, bathing, meal preparation or travel. In-home caregivers, family members, assisted living facilities and nursing homes all provide custodial care to seniors. This foundational aspect of senior care is most often conducted by aids in senior care communities.

See also: In-Home Care and Activities of Daily Living.


Dementia is a syndrome that denotes a loss in cognitive ability brought on by a brain injury or degenerative disorder. Alzheimer’s disease is a common form of dementia. Memory care units offer relief and care for aging people who suffer from dementia.

See also: Memory Care and Cognitive Impairment.

Elder Care

Elder care (also spelled in one word, eldercare) is another word for "senior care" and denotes any outside care provided to an aging individual. Senior care communities, including nursing homes, provide elder care.


Scientists of gerontology (or the study of aging) provide insight into the world of senior care, giving insight into the biological, psychological and social needs of an aging population. Their research informs the world of elder care.

Hospice Care

Also called: Palliative Care

Hospice care is a medical specialty geared toward making terminally ill patients as comfortable as possible in their last days of life. It is often provided through outside sources at senior care communities such as assisted living facilities and continuing care communities, but is part of the general offering in many nursing homes. It is covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

Independent Living

Independent living can refer either to seniors who live on their own in their own residence, or those who live in active adult communities. Elderly individuals who live independently are generally healthy and often need little if any assistance with activities of daily living. They often enjoy the social interaction and peer support available to them in organized senior care communities or senior programs.

Intermediate Care

Intermediate care is a level of senior care that is often provided at nursing homes, but does not utilize all of the help available in these medical environments. Seniors who could live in an assisted living facilityS, but prefer to move directly to a nursing home to bypass an extra relocation can receive intermediate care in the skilled nursing facility of their choice.

In-Home Care

Also called: Domiciliary Care

In-home care for seniors is the most prevalent form of senior care today. Custodial care can be provided by family members or friends, or can be hired out to trained in-home care aids. "Home health care" on the other hand, refers to care by medical professionals in a home setting.

Long-Term Care

Long-term care is any kind of senior care provided to aging individuals, regardless of the environment in which is takes place. Senior care communities, in-home services and adult day cares may all be part of a senior’s long-term care plan.


Medicaid is a government program for low-income elderly people that provides some health services and senior care. If your loved one will utilize Medicaid to help pay for her long-term care needs, search look for Medicaid-accepted facilities. For more information, see our article, "Paying for Nursing Home Care."


Medicare is a government-sponsored health insurance program open to all senior citizens aged 65 or older. Part A of Medicare covers hospital and doctor expenses, as well as hospice and temporary skilled nursing needs. Part B benefits are available for an additional monthly premium, and cover things like mobility aids and durable medical equipment. For more information, see our article, "Paying for Nursing Home Care."

Memory Care Facility

Memory care facilities are senior care communities that offer special services for the cognitively impaired. People with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease often need specialized services that are provided in either whole memory care facilities or special memory care units inside senior care environments.

Nursing Home

Also called: Skilled Nursing Facilities, Convalescent Homes or Rest Homes

Nursing homes are senior care communities that provide comprehensive help with activities of daily living, as well as 24-hour medical support. Nursing homes come in all sizes, from just a few to hundreds of beds. They often provide a variety of social activities, as well as meals, medicine administration, health visits, and physical and occupational therapy. For more information, see our "All About Nursing Homes" resource section.

Rehabilitative Care Centers

Rehabilitative care centers are specialized facilities that offer intensive rehabilitation services to people recovering from incapacitating events. If your loved one suffers a stroke or has a bad fall, he may need to temporarily relocate from his senior care facility to a rehab center in order to relearn some physical skills such as walking or speaking. Some skilled nursing facilities offer rehabilitative care as well.

Respite Care

Respite care is a much-needed service for caregivers that provides care to their loved one so the caregiver can recharge or tend to other responsibilities. The task of giving care to an aging loved one can be overwhelming, and unfortunately, only a small percentage of caregivers utilize respite care services. If you are caring for an aging loved one, make sure you form a relationship with a respite care agency in case of emergency or for periodic breaks.

Retirement Home

Retirement homes are senior care communities similar to dorms or apartments that provide custodial care to residents. The term can refer to assisted living facilities or more comprehensive skilled-nursing facilities that offer 24-hour medical supervision. Nursing homes are sometimes referred to as retirement homes.