Senior Living Definitions

Ken Teegardin Written by Ken Teegardin
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Chief Editor | Caregiver

The following table includes definitions of most of the special language used in senior living and senior care. Understanding the language used by care professional and senior specialist will help seniors understand their options and make better decision with planning their future.

24-hour Controlled Access Some senior facilities have security systems that only allow authorized personnel into the buildings.
Accreditation Definition: A designation or seal of approval given by an independent governing body that a community of service meets specific requirements as designation by the controlling body.
ACHCA Definition: The American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA) is a non-profit professional membership association which provides educational programming, certification, and career development opportunities for care administrators.
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) Activities of daily living are typically defined as bathing, dressing, assistance with using the toilet, eating, moving around to perform daily life supporting tasks.
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) The ADA was passed by Congress in 1980 to establish a comprehensive and clear prohibition of discrimination an the basis of a disability.
Adaptive / Assistive Equipment Definition: An appliance, gadget or piece of equipment designed to assist users in self-care, leisure activities or work. This can include in-home elevators, special eating implements and walking aids.
Administration on Aging (AOA) An agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is an advocate agency for older persons (seniors) and their concerns at the federal level.
Administrator Definition: Typically a licensed professional who has the overall responsibility of the day-to-day operations of a care community like an independent living assisted living or nursing home.
Adult Day Care Definition: An organization that provides structured program for seniors including stimulation social activities. Many also provide rehab services for the elderly that are emotionally or physically disabled.
Adult Day Health Care Definition:  An organization that provides care and services in a residential health care facility or approved extension site, on an outpatient basis, under the medical direction of a physician. Services are in accord with a comprehensive assessment of care needs and individualized health care plan.
Adult Family Home Definition: A facility that provides a private, home-like setting and serves a limited number of residents who receive care from live-in caretakers.  These facilities are  typically in a residential neighborhood and provides group meals, housekeeping and laundry. Services vary widely in these facilities, so check each location for specifics. (Also called Group Home, Board and Care Home, Residential Care Facility, Adult Foster Care and Personal Care Home.)
Advanced Directives Definition: A written statement ( often part of a will) of an senior's preferences and directions regarding health care. Advanced Directives are created to protect a person's rights even if he or she becomes  unable to choose or communicate his or her wishes.
Advantage List Definition: A list of healthcare service providers that agree to give particular insurance company policyholders a preset discount often included in long term care insurance.
Aging in Place Definition: Aging is Place is a concept where seniors continue to live at home or with a family regardless of their mental and physical decline. This concept requires resources like in-home caregivers.
Alzheimer's Definition: A progressive form of presenile dementia that is similar to senile dementia except that it usually starts in the 40s or 50s. The first symptoms are impaired memory which is followed by impaired thought and speech and finally complete helplessness. Alzheimer's is caused by a build up of plaque in the brain that limits it's ability to function.
Alzheimer's Care Center Definition:  A treatment center or facility that specializes in providing care for those with Alzheimer's disease. These facilities are geared towards supervision of the patient in a safe and controlled environment.
Ambulatory Definition:  The ability to walk and move freely without another persons assistance, not bedridden or hospitalized.
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)  Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) is organization tries to help older persons and persons with disabilities live with dignity and choices in their homes and communities for as long as possible.
Assessment Definition:  An evaluation or test, usually performed by a professional life a physician to determine a person's mental, emotional, and social capabilities.
Assisted Living Definition: A senior lifestyle that provides a combination of housing, personalized supportive services and health care designed to meet the needs of seniors who need help with activities of daily living.
Cancer Definition: An incurable disease that develops when cells in the body begin to grow abnormally. Unlike normal cells that grow, divide and die, cancer cells continue to grow and form new abnormal cells. Cancer cells can travel to other body parts causing more damage. This process, called metastasis, occurs when the cancer cells get into the bloodstream or lymph vessels.
Caregiver Definition: Any individual who care for another person.
CARF International: CARF is an independent, nonprofit organization focused on advancing the quality of services you use to meet your needs for the best possible outcomes. CARF provides accreditation services worldwide at the request of health and human service providers.
Case management Definition: A term used to describe a plan of action and care by a professional for a senior or person in need of assistance.
Catheter Definition:  A hollow flexible tube for insertion into a body cavity, duct or vessel to allow the passage of fluids or distend a passageway. Catheters are typically used drainage of urine from the bladder through the urethra or insertion through a blood vessel into the heart for diagnostic purposes.
Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) The CMS is the US federal agency which administers Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program. They provides information for health professionals, regional governments, and consumers.. www.cms.gov
Certificate of Medical Necessity Definition:  A document created and signed by an attending physician to certify a patient's need for some type of durable medical equipment (i.e. wheelchairs, walkers, etc.).
Certified Home Health Care (CAN)  A certified nursing assistant, who helps a nurse care for a patient including  preventative, therapeutic, health guidance and/or supportive help to persons at home and/or at a senior housing facility
Charge Nurse Definition:  An register nurse (RN) or Licensing Practical Nurse (LPN) who is responsible for the supervision of a hospital unit or nursing care unit. The charge nurse typically schedules and supervises the nursing staff and provides care to community residents.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)  A group of chronic respiratory disorders. These disorders are characterized by the restricted flow of air into and out of the lungs like in the case of emphysema.
Cognitive Impairment Definition:  A diminished mental capacity. Seniors with cognitive impairment may have difficulty with short-term memory and concentration.
Colostomy Definition:  A disposable and replacable bag is use to for the collection and disposal of bodily wastes.
Concierge Service Definition: Often found at hotel and resorts, this service is becoming more common for senior care facilities. A Concierge will arrange for activities, acquire resources and give advice to seniors to improve their quality of life.
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)  A common type of heart disease typically characterized by inadequate pumping action of the heart.
Congregate Housing Definition:  Similar to independent living but Congregate Housing may provides additional conveniences or supportive services like meals, housekeeping and transportation in addition to rental housing. A lower level of care than assisted living.
Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) A community that offers multiple levels of senior living, including independent living, assisted living, hospice and skilled nursing care. A CCRC will create  long-term contract between the resident (frequently lasting the term of the resident's lifetime) and the community which offers a continuum of housing, services and health care system throughout the decline of the residence health. All the care options are commonly on one campus or site allow the resident to maintain friends and consistent activities even as their care need change.
Continuum of Care Definition:  Care services  to assist individuals throughout a wide range to health care requirements. This may include Independent Living, Assisted Living, Nursing Care, Hospice, Home Care, and Community Based Services.
Convalescent Home Definition: A common name for a skilled nursing facility
Custodial Care Definition: Room, board and other personal assistance services including assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) and taking medicine
Dementia Definition:  Describes a group of symptoms that are caused by changes in brain function. For example Frontal Lobe Dementia effect a person ability of see right from wrong. Most Alzheimer's care facility also serve dementia patients.
Depression (Depressive Disorder) Definition: Typical though of as a mental condition. this illness involves the body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing bad mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Treatment can include medications, dietary changes and counseling.
Developmental Disability (DD)  DD refers to a serious and chronic disability, which is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments.
Diabetes Definition: A disease in which the body does not maintain the proper level of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes is thought to be based on both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise, and poor eating habits.
Dialysis Definition:  A treatment where blood is remove from the body and cleaned to removes waste and fluid from the body when kidneys no longer work well enough to keep the body healthy. When kidneys go below 15% of their normal function, dialysis or kidney transplant is necessary to remove waste and fluid from the body.
Director of Nursing (DON)  Oversees all nursing staff in a nursing home. The DON 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.
Dual Eligibles Definition:  Someone who is qualified for both Medicare and Medicaid.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC)  A legal document in which a person gives a caregiver (called an attorney-in-fact) the power to make healthcare decisions for him or her if the person is unable to make those decisions. A DPA can include guidelines for the attorney-in-fact to follow in making decisions on behalf of the incompetent person.
Dysphagia Definition:  A swallowing disorder often depicted by difficulty in oral preparation for swallowing. The person has difficulty moving food from the mouth to stomach.
Emergency Call System Some senior care facilities provide a centralized emergency call system such as call buttons in important locations in the unit that allows senior to get emergency help immediately.
Emphysema Definition:  One of the two most common forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This disorder is based on the  obstruction of the bronchial airflow in and out of the lungs. Emphysema is marked by an abnormal accumulation of air in the lung's many tiny air sacs (alveoli). As air continues to collect in these sacs, they become enlarged and may break or be damaged and form scar tissue. The result is labored breathing and an increased susceptibility to infection. Another common COPD is bronchitis.


Updated: Jan 26, 2011

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