Senior Living Terms to Know

Nurse and elderly woman

Making the decision to move yourself or someone you love into a senior living community or to find senior care services can be emotionally draining. That drain can worsen when you are confronted with dozens of confusing industry terms.

Take a deep breath.

We want to help you learn some of the basic language in the senior living industry, so you and your loved ones can make a more educated decision on what senior care services are best for your family.

Senior Living Terms and Phrases

From complex legalese to day-to-day industry talk, knowing the following key terms and phrases can help you navigate the world of senior living.

Senior Care Terms

The following are basic terms related to senior living and senior care in general.

  • Senior Living Community - Any community where residents are all at least 55+, although different communities may have different age requirements. These communities are also known as senior care facilities, senior housing, convalescent homes, or retirement homes.
  • Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) - ADLs are physical activities that someone needs to complete on a day-to-day basis to meet basic personal care requirements, such as toileting and bathing.
  • Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) - IADLs are daily activities that require critical thinking; completing IADLs can significantly improve someone's quality of life. They include medication management and meal preparation.
  • Level of Care - Level of care refers to the specific tier or type of care someone needs in order to have a decent quality of life. In senior living, level of care can refer to independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care, memory care, rehabilitation care, respite care, hospice care, or palliative care. Some individual senior care facilities may use other terms to classify their services and care levels.
  • Independent Living Community - An independent living community is dedicated to older adults who need no assistance with ADLs or IADLs, although some locations may offer housekeeping and dining services as part of their amenities packages. They offer residents the opportunities to engage in social activities with their peers and stay active in ways that may be difficult if they lived alone.
  • Assisted Living Facility (ALF) - Assisted living communities offer supportive services to older adults, specifically those that need some assistance with ADLs.
  • Skilled Nursing Facility/Nursing Home - Skilled nursing care communities are for older adults living with severe disabilities that require 24/7 access to medical care.
  • Memory Care Community - Memory care communities are for individuals living with some form of cognitive impairment and memory loss, such as people living with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia. They require assistance with both ADLs and IADLs.
  • Short-Term Rehabilitation Services - Short-term rehab services can be either inpatient or outpatient. They help people recover after an illness, injury, or hospital stay so that they are well enough to return to their homes safely. These services can include physical therapy and speech therapy.
  • Respite Care - As the name suggests, respite care offers family members short-term respite from caregiving duties so that they can practice self-care with the comfort of knowing that the well-being of their loved one is assured.
  • Hospice Care - Hospice care is also known as end-of-life care. It is for terminal patients, with the goal of improving people's well-being at the end of their lives.
  • Palliative Care - Sometimes used synonymously with hospice care, palliative care is care that focuses not on curing a condition, but improving symptoms and reducing someone's discomfort. It can be for someone living with a chronic condition that may or may not be terminal.
  • Aging in Place - Aging in place, as the name suggests, lets people age in a singular location where all of their care needs are met.
  • Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) - CCRCs let older adults age in place by offering a continuum of care on one campus. In other words, one CCRC can offer independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care, and other levels of care, so that when residents' needs change, they do not have to move to a new community to receive necessary care.
  • Adult Day Care - Adult day cares are for families who assume the caregiving responsibilities of an adult family member. They offer a variety of services for older adults who require supervision during the daytime when family caregivers may be at work or have other responsibilities.
  • In-Home Health Care - In-home health care is care received in the comfort of one's own home. Licensed health care professionals, such as registered nurses, are typically the ones who deliver health care services to the older adult in need. Non-health care services, such as housekeeping, may be rendered by local cleaning services to help an older adult living alone keep a clean and safe home.
  • Health Care Professional - "Health care professional" typically refers to a variety of licensed individuals working in the healthcare industry. These professionals can include doctors of medicine (MDs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs), and licensed practical nurses (LPNs).
  • Senior Care Plan - A senior care plan details the exact level of care an older adult requires, as well as outlining how this person will receive senior care services.

Insurance-Related Terms

You will likely come across the following insurance-related terms when caring for an aging relative.

  • Long-Term Care Insurance (LTCI) - A type of insurance that covers costs associated with long-term care and residential care services.
  • Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP) - FLTCIP is a type of LTCI for eligible US federal employees.
  • Medicare - Medicare is a federal health insurance program for older adults split into many parts that cover different healthcare services: Part A (hospital), Part B (medical), Part C (Medicare Advantage), and Part D (prescription drugs).
  • Medigap/Medicare Supplement Insurance - Medigap is private insurance that supplements, or helps fill gaps in Medicare coverage.
  • Medicaid - Medicaid is a type of state and federal health insurance for low-income individuals and/or those living with disabilities.
  • US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are part of the HHS .
  • Health Care Service Provider - An individual or organization that is trained and licensed to provide medical services.


As your family plans for the future, the following legal terms can be important to know.

  • Estate Plan - A comprehensive plan that outlines what happens to someone and their possessions after incapacitation or death. Power of attorney, living wills, and wills and testaments are three key components of estate planning in the United States.
  • Power of Attorney (POA)/Letter of Attorney - A legal document that gives someone (attorney-in-fact, attorney, agent) power to act in place of or represent someone else (principal or donor). POAs, for example, may be helpful for one person with early-onset dementia to grant to a trusted individual that can act on their behalf as the disease progresses.
  • Living Will/Personal Directive - A legal document that outlines what someone's medical wishes and healthcare plans are if this person suddenly becomes incapacitated. An example of a living will would be someone stating not to be put on life support in the event of a severe brain injury.
  • Will and Testament - A will is a document in which someone describes how and to whom they want their possessions distributed after death.
  • Ombudsman - Ombudsmen are individuals appointed to investigate potential cases of abuse or malpractice.