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Lutheran Life Villages Guide to Senior Living Terms.

When it comes to learning about the senior living industry, all you really need is a basic knowledge of a few common terms and you’ll be an expert in no time. 

Lutheran Life Villages invites you to use the following glossary to familiarize yourself with some commonly used terms and gain a better understanding of senior housing, care and services options.

Accessory Apartment

A separate living unit inside a single-family home. This is a popular senior housing option for people who want to stay in their homes, and a potential source of caregiving between an older person and a friend, neighbor or relative, providing the convenience of physical closeness while maintaining privacy. It provides additional income for the landlord, and low rent for the tenant.


A seal of approval given by an autonomous governing body to a community or service provider. To become accredited, the community or provider must meet specific requirements set by the accreditation entity and is then generally required to undergo a thorough review process by a team of evaluators to ensure certain standards of quality. The accrediting organizations are independent, not government agencies or regulatory bodies. Some examples of accreditation bodies for the senior housing and care industry include Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Communities, Continuing Care Accreditation Commission, and Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Bathing, eating, grooming, dressing, toileting and other day-to-day activities.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

Passed by Congress in 1980, this law establishes a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.


In most cases, a licensed professional who undertakes the duty of managing the day-to-day operations of a care community such as a skilled nursing or assisted living community.

Adult Day Care

Structured programs with stimulating social activities, health-related and rehabilitation services for the elderly who are physically or emotionally disabled and need a protective environment. The participant is usually brought to the care community in the morning and leaves in the evening.

Advance Directive

A legal document that lets others know an individual’s desires in regard to future medical treatment. Examples of advance directives include a living will, durable power of attorney and health care proxy.

Advantage List

Healthcare and service providers that partner with select insurance providers to give a preset discount for policyholders.

Affordable Senior Housing

An age-qualified, cost-efficient place of dwelling for persons whose income is a certain percentage below the median income for an area, as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Aging in Place

A concept that advocates allowing a resident to choose to remain in his/her living environment regardless of the physical and or mental decline that may occur with the aging process.

Alzheimer’s Care Center

A treatment center that provides a safe environment and supportive care for those with Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease

A progressive, neurodegenerative disease which is recognized by loss of mental and learning function. Alzheimer's disease is also the leading cause of dementia.


The ability to walk freely & independently, not bedridden or hospitalized.


A cognitive evaluation usually performed by a medical professional.

Assisted Living

Communities that promote independence but offer personal assistance for meals, bathing, dressing, and/or medication on an as needed basis.  Transportation and social activities may be available.


Designated persons who serve as home health aides and companions.

Case Management

A planned approach to the coordination of health services to individuals.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

A trained and certified health care professional who assists individuals with healthcare needs and activities of daily living (ADLs), and provides bedside care – including basic nursing procedures – under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).

Charge Nurse, RN/LPN

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

Congregate Housing

A housing environment for independent persons, support services are typically available.  Meals and other care are often shared.

Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)

A residential campus providing a continuum of care from private homes and independent living to assisted living and skilled nursing.  Residents can age in place without having to relocate, regardless of medical needs.  There may/may not be a buy in fee. 

Continuum of Care

An integrated system of care that guides and tracks individuals over time through a comprehensive array of health services spanning all levels of care from basic to advanced.

Convalescent Home

See Skilled Nursing.


The progressive or immediate loss of cognitive abilities, including memory, thought formulations, disorientation and rational decision-making.  Dementia is not a disease, rather a, irreversible grouping of symptoms that leads to a syndrome.

Developmental Disability (DD)

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

Director of Nursing (DON)

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

Durable Power of Attorney

A legal document in which an individual designates another person to act on their behalf when they are unable to do so. A durable power of attorney gives the representative the authority to make financial and health care decisions.

ECHO (Elder Cottage Housing Opportunities)

A small, temporary home installed on the same site as a single-family residence, usually that of an adult child or other relative. ECHO units allow seniors to remain close to family members and receive the support they need while retaining a great deal of independence.

Equal Housing Opportunity

In accordance with the federal Fair Housing Act, Equal Housing Opportunity provides protection from discrimination on the basis of race, color, age, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex or physical ability.

Financial Counseling Programs

Programs designed to offer seniors full financial management support including household bills as well as insurance applications, forms and investment opportunities.

Health Care Power of Attorney

A legal document in which an individual designates another person to make health care decisions if he or she is unable to make or communicate their wishes. The health care proxy has, in essence, the same rights to request or refuse treatment that the individual would have if capable of making and communicating decisions.

Health Care Proxy

A person named in an advance directive or durable power of attorney to make decisions for the person who signed the document.


Acronym that stands for “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act”, a US law designed to provide privacy standards to protect patients’ medical records and other health information provided to health plans, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.


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.

Home Health Care

At-home health and/or supportive care provided by healthcare professionals.

Hospice Care

A care provided to those who are terminally or severely ill. The mission of hospice care is to provide comprehensive support to those ill by offering a comforting environment that minimizes suffering. The focus is to have a tranquil setting where patients can still feel dignified and comfortable during their final days.

Independent Living

Communities offering an independent lifestyle and the benefits of a full service community, such as meals in a restaurant setting, housekeeping, transportation, and various social activities.  Wellness programs may be available but typically no care options.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

A level of activities that are secondary to basic functions, but are important for independent living. These include: paying bills, grocery shopping, driving and managing finances.


Each community may have its own definition of a kitchenette, but generally one includes a sink, cabinet space, and a mini-refrigerator, 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.

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 is required.

Life Care Community

A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) that offers an insurance type contract and provides all levels of care. It often includes payment for acute care and physician's 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.

Living Will

Also known as an advanced health care directive. A written document that states the actions to be taken regarding the patient’s health should he/she become severely ill or incapacitated and is no longer able to make independent decisions.

Long-Term Care

Health care and support services provided to those who are not able to fully function independently for long periods of time.

Long-Term Care Insurance

Insurance that covers the long-term supportive care of an individual after a predetermined time period.

Low Income Senior Housing

Housing options for persons over the age of 55 with below average income. (see Affordable Senior Housing)

Managed Care

Can best be described as the partnership 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 in order to achieve this goal. Providers include: specialists, hospitals, skilled nursing communities, therapists, and home health care agencies.


A government-funded, state-managed health care program provided to individuals and families with limited income available. In order to qualify for the additional healthcare supports, persons must be citizens or legal permanent residents of the United States and live below a certain income level, among certain other requirements.  Medicaid participants receive a private health care plan that included a coverage amount determined by the state.

Medical Director

The medical director coordinates with an individual's personal physician to ensure that the community delivers the care that is prescribed. In some instances, the medical director may be a resident's primary physician. A staff medical director assumes overall responsibility for the formulation and implementation of all policies related to medical care.


A federally funded system of health and hospital insurance for persons aged 65 and older and for disabled persons.

Medications 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 him or herself. For instance, the community can remind the resident that she needs to give herself the medicine injection, but the community cannot perform the actual injection itself.

Medigap Insurance

A supplemental health insurance privately sold to persons who receive Medicare in efforts to cover medical services not, or only partially, covered by Medicare.

Memory Care

Self-contained environment specifically designed to serve residents with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias.

National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)

A national organization established to set a modeling standard for healthcare industry procedures and regulations. The NAIC serves as a main influence for states on how to interpret insurance policies and coverage rights.


Inability to walk independently, usually bedridden or hospitalized.

Non-Medical Home Care

At-home care/services provided to individuals.


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 turn 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.

Nurse Assistant

A Nurse assistant works under the supervision of a Registered Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse. A 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 communities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Nursing Home

See Skilled Nursing.

Occupational Therapy

A creative activity prescribed for its effect in promoting recovery or rehabilitation. This is done to help individuals relearn activities of daily living and is generally administered by a licensed therapist.

Physical Therapy

The treatment of disease or injury, by physical and mechanical means (as massage, regulated exercise, water, light, heat, and electricity.) Physical therapists plan and administer prescribed physical therapy treatment programs for residents to help restore their function and strength.

Quality Care

Term used to describe care and services that allow recipients to attain and maintain their highest level of mental, physical, and psychological function, in a dignified and caring way.

Registered Nurse (RN)

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


Therapeutic care for persons requiring intensive physical, occupational, or speech therapy in order to restore to the patient to a former capacity.

Residential Care Home

Typically a single-family home offering assistance with activities of daily living.

Respite Care

Support services offered to provide temporary relief to those in charge of care services to individuals.

Retirement Communities

An age-qualified housing community for independent persons. Amenities and services are often shared. There are a variety of retirement communities based on the preferences, abilities and support needs of the senior.

Senior Apartment

Age-qualified multiunit rental housing for older adults who are able to care for themselves. Usually no additional services such as meals or transportation are provided.

Senior Citizen Policies

Insurance policies offered for individuals 65 years of age or older, often working in combination with Medicare.

Senior Cooperative Housing

An age-qualified, membership-based ownership where persons will be provided housing based on becoming a shareholder of the real estate of interest.

Senior Mobile Home Parks

A community designed for age-qualified persons that will reside in a factory built home.

Senior Rehabilitation

Age-specific therapeutic care. (see Rehabilitation)

Skilled Nursing

A place of residence for persons that need 24/hr support due to considerable deficiencies with daily living routines including eating, dressing, bathing, etc.

Support Group

An organized gathering of people that are affected by a condition or disease in efforts to provide a communal support system open to sharing experiences and issues. Participants can include caregivers, family, friends, patients and any individual affected by the situation.

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