Aging opens up a whole new world of words you may never have heard before (or cared to learn about!). Caring for an aging loved one can leave you with all kinds of questions about types of care, living arrangements, legalese, insurance, and healthcare. Learning about senior care, whether you are a caregiver or a senior yourself, starts with vocabulary. Start with our glossary of senior terms explained.

Types of Care

Custodial Care

Non-medical care to assist individuals with basic daily necessities, i.e. bathing, dressing, eating or taking medicine.

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Home and Community Based Services (HCBS)

The term commonly used by Medicaid programs to describe in-home assistance.

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Home Health Care

Medical and nursing services provided in-home by licensed providers and professionals, sometimes covered by Medicare.

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Hospice Care

End of life care and support for terminally ill patients (and their families) that includes medical, counseling and social services. Hospice Care is usually provided in-home and focuses on quality of life and comfort instead of a cure.

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Long Term Care (LTC)

A spectrum of medical and support services for people who have lost some or all of their capacity to function due to an illness or disability.

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Managed Care / Managed Healthcare

Coordination between healthcare service providers and insurance providers intended to maximize the quality of care while reducing the cost. 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.

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Palliative Care

Similar to hospice care, palliative care is medical care or treatment that focuses on pain relief and preventing chronic suffering for patients. The goal is to improve the quality of life and alleviate or reduce the severity of the symptoms of serious, complex, and/or advanced illness without treating the underlying cause.

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Respite Care

Short-term relief for primary caregivers, ranging from several hours to days. Temporary care can be provided at home or in a residential care setting.

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Skilled Care / Skilled Nursing Care

A level of care ordered by a physician that is provided by a licensed healthcare professional like a registered nurse (RN).

Read more:[March-2016].pdf

couple holding hands

Living Arrangements

Adult Day Care/Adult Day Health Care/Adult Social Day Care

Daycare for grandparents. Service offering structured programs for physically or emotionally impaired adults in a protective setting. Adult Day Care facilities provide a range of stimulating social activities and support services that can include health-related and rehabilitation services for seniors. Usually, participants are brought to the center in the morning and leave in the evening.

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Assisted Living/Assisted Living Facilities (ALF)

Housing option for seniors who cannot live independently and need help with daily living (bathing, grooming, meal preparation and eating, dressing, using the restroom, taking meds, transportation, etc.), but don't require the 24-hour skilled nursing care you would find in a nursing home. Assisted living communities include non-medical senior housing, residential care, residential care facilities, sheltered housing, adult family homes, adult foster care, adult living facilities, domiciliary care, community-based retirement facilities, community residences, and group homes.

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At Home Care

Medical care provided at home instead of at an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.

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Congregate Housing

Subsidized multi-unit housing/apartments for independent and semi-independent seniors who meet certain financial eligibility requirements (low to moderate income). Congregate housing is not as widespread as other senior living arrangements. It is intended for seniors who are essentially self-sufficient but may require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as cooking, housekeeping, and transportation.

See Congregate Housing Services Program

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)

Allows residents to "age in place" as care needs escalate for seniors with declining conditions. This type of retirement community provides a continuum of care, from independent living to assisted living and skilled nursing care, all in a single location. Ex) Life Care Centers of America

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Convalescent Home / Convalescent Hospital

A skilled nursing facility designed for short-term care where a patient can recover from an injury or illness then return home.

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Independent Living

For self-sufficient social seniors. Dorms for the old folks. Independent Living communities are for those who still have the physical and mental capacity to live independently but want to be active in a community environment. Made up of single-family homes or townhomes, Independent Living communities such as retirement communities, retirement homes, senior apartments, and senior housing promote active, healthy senior lifestyles by offering security, social activities, companionship, and amenities. This is not an option for someone who cannot care for themselves.

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Nursing Home

A long-term residential care facility for elderly or disabled people that is licensed by the state. Nursing homes provide 24-hour nursing care, rehabilitation therapy, room and board, non-medical assistance (like bathing), and activities. Medicaid certified nursing homes or Medicaid Nursing Facilities (NF) participate in the Medicaid program.

Residential Care Homes / Board and Care Homes

Similar to an assisted living community, but in a house in a residential neighborhood. Residential care homes are equipped, adapted, and staffed to provide lodging, meal services and assistance with daily living activities. This is a good option for those who would like more personalized care in a smaller setting.

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Senior Apartments

Apartments for those of a certain age, usually 55 and up. Lots of "hey I have an oxygen tank in here" signs. Strictly lodging for self-sufficient seniors.

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Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF)

Like a nursing home in that the residential home is staffed with licensed healthcare professionals but usually refers to a place for short-term rehab, not long term care. Skilled Nursing Facilities provide the same medical and non-medical services as a nursing home, but staff specialists like speech-language pathologists, rehabilitation specialists, and audiologists to assist in recovery from an acute episode/emergency.

University-based Retirement Community (UBRC)

Did you know universities have old folk's homes? Duke, Stanford, Dartmouth, and many more have created communities for nerdy seniors who want to keep learning well into their twilight years. These retirement communities provide on-site classes, wellness programs, and art activities to help seniors stay mentally active.


Advance Directives

Including Living Wills and Medical and Durable Powers of Attorney, an Advance Directive is a written, legal statement expressing your preferences for medical care if you are incapacitated. A do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order can also be part of an advance directive. This is a good way to make sure you get what you want in terms of medical care while taking the burden of decision making off your loved ones.

Read more: Wikipedia: Advance Health Care Directive


A guardian or a protector legally appointed to manage financial and legal decisions for a person who is no longer capable due to physical or mental limitations, or old age. Read more:

Durable Power of Attorney

An Advance Directive, this legal document designates any proficient adult(s), called an attorney-in-fact, to make health care, financial, or real-estate decisions for a person, even after they become mentally or physically incapacitated. A durable power of attorney stays effective until the principal dies or until they act to revoke the power they've granted to their agent.

Power of Attorney / Healthcare Power of Attorney

Just like Durable Power of Attorney, but a general Power of Attorney ends on your death or incapacitation.

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Living Will

This written, legal advance healthcare directive documents a person's wishes for end-of-life medical care should they become unable to communicate.

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Residents' Rights

The Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) of 1987 requires nursing homes to protect residents' rights, including dignity, medical privacy, and visitation rights.

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Accelerated Death Benefits (ADB)

A rider that creates a provision in a life insurance policy allowing the insured terminally ill policyholder to receive a portion of death benefits to a while they are still living to balance the financial needs associated with treatment and other care. Life insurance companies generally offer accelerated death benefits to individuals who have a life expectancy of two years or less.

Benefit Period

This Medicare program measures your use of inpatient hospital and skilled nursing facility (SNF) services. It starts the day the subscriber is admitted to a hospital or Skilled Nursing Facility and ends when the subscriber has not received inpatient hospital or Medicare-covered skilled care in an SNF for 60 days in a row.

Cash Surrender Value

The cash value of a life insurance policy should the policyholder voluntarily terminate the contract before its maturity or an insured event occurs, essentially selling that policy back to the insurance company.

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Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)

Formerly known as the Health Care Financing Administration, CMS is a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that finances and administers the Medicare and Medicaid programs. In addition to other responsibilities, this agency establishes standards for the operation of nursing facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds.

Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)

Medical insurance programs for veterans' families.

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CHAMPVA for Life (CFL)

Extension of CHAMPVA benefits for individuals over 65.


The percent of the approved charge that the subscriber must pay after the deductible has been paid.

Death Benefit Loans

A loan from the life insurance company that is secured by the cash value of the policy, not against the death benefit amount. Death Benefit loans have low-interest rates and and no re-payment schedule.


The amount of money the insured must pay out of pocket before an insurer will pay a claim.

Dual Eligibility

When a person is qualified for both Medicare and Medicaid, they have Dual Eligibility.

Elimination Period

The length of time one must hold a long term care policy before benefits can begin. Typically an elimination period lasts 90 days (the number of days you pay for care before the policy pays out).

Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)

A type of health insurance plan with its own network of doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers that have agreed to provide health services to enrolled members for payment at a certain level.

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Life Settlement

Also known as Life Insurance Settlements, Senior Life Settlements, or Senior Settlements, a Life Settlement is when a policyholder sells their life insurance to a third party for a lump sum. If the policyholder is terminally ill, the third party sale is referred to as a Viatical Settlement.

Long Term Care Insurance (LTCI)

Insurance can cover adult daycare, Alzheimer's facilities, assisted living, home care, home modification to accommodate disabilities, hospice care, respite care, and nursing home stays.

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Public assistance for eligible low-income individuals who cannot afford healthcare.

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The US federal health insurance program for people who are 65 years and older and those with disabilities.

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Medicare Savings Program (MSP)

Federally funded programs for financially needy seniors who are not eligible for Medicaid to help pay some or all of their Medicare premiums, deductibles, copayments and coinsurance.

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Medigap Insurance/Medicare Supplemental Insurance/Medigap plans

Supplemental health insurance offered by private companies to supplement healthcare costs (hospital/doctor bills) not covered by Medicare Part A or Part B.

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Formerly known as CHAMPUS, or Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services, TRICARE is a regionally managed medical insurance program for active duty and retired members of the military, their families, and survivors.

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TRICARE for Life

TRICARE-eligible beneficiaries who have both Medicare Part A and B automatically qualify for this Medicare-wraparound coverage.

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older couple walking on beach


Alzheimer's Disease

This progressive neurodegenerative disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior caused by the death or loss of function of nerve cells in several areas of the brain.

Read more: Alzheimer's Association


A doctor that specializes in identifying, diagnosing, treating, and monitoring hearing disorders and balance problems.

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Not a disease in itself, but the overall term for a variety of symptoms associated with a severe loss of intellectual functions including thought, memory, language, reason, and problem-solving skills that interfere with a person's daily functioning. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's.

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The scientific study of the biological, cognitive, cultural, psychological, and social effects of aging.

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Medication Management (MTM)

As your prescriptions stack up, it's important to make sure that they don't interfere with each other and that you are taking the correct dosage at the correct time.

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Progressive Neurological Condition

Conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, or Dementia in which the patient has progressively declining symptoms.

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Physical, occupational, or speech therapy to help you get back, keep, or improve abilities that you need for daily life.

Reminiscence Therapy

A type of therapy that uses all the senses to help individuals with dementia remember events, people and places from their past lives.

Physical Therapy (PT)

Physical and mechanical treatment of disease or injury to help restore their function and strength. PT can include massage, regulated exercise, water, light, heat, and electricity therapy.

Speech Therapy

Speech-language pathologists help stroke or dementia patients overcome communication conditions such as aphasia, swallowing difficulties, and voice disorders.

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