Say What? Deciphering Common Senior Care Jargon

senior care jargon

The doctor says your 70-year-old mother is “exhibiting symptoms of middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease with moderately severe decline, with co-morbidities including diabetes and hypertension.” The caseworker recommends “initial respite care and skilled nursing care in the home, then transitioning to a rental continuing care community with person-centered dementia care resources as the disease progresses to later stages.”


Caring for an aging loved one isn’t easy to begin with, but sometimes talking to health-care professionals can feel like they’re speaking an entirely different language. They don’t talk that way to intentionally confuse you. Like anyone who’s immersed in an industry, the jargon of senior care becomes second nature to people who work in the profession. They may forget others don’t know all the terms they use in day-to-day interactions with patients and caregivers.

To help you better navigate the world of elder care, here are some commonly used senior care terms explained:

  • Activities of daily living — You’ll hear this term used when discussing a person’s capabilities. It describes tasks everyone needs to do on a daily basis, including taking care of personal hygiene, using the toilet, eating and walking.
  • Alzheimer’s — Short for Alzheimer’s Disease, Alzheimer’s is a medical diagnosis that only a doctor can make. The Alzheimer’s Association defines it as “a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.” It is the most common form of dementia.
  • Assisted living — One of the many types of senior care settings, assisted living is an environment where seniors can get services such as meals, laundry, housekeeping and medication reminders while maintaining a level of independence. Generally, states license and regulate assisted living facilities.
  • Continuing care communities — This is a special type of community where residents can obtain varying levels of care as they grow older and their needs potentially become greater. Such communities often encompass independent living accommodations, assisted living and skilled nursing care. As an elder’s health needs and abilities change, they can continue their care in the same community.
  • Dementia — Rather than a single condition with a single cause, “dementia” is a medical diagnosis that encompasses a variety of symptoms, including memory loss and impaired thinking — all of which hinder a person’s ability to manage daily life.
  • Independent living — In this kind of senior living option, people live independently in their own homes, such as an apartment or small bungalow. The community provides supportive services like yard care, meals in a common dining area, social activities, housekeeping, transportation and more. Or, the community may offer no services for seniors who are totally independent.
  • Instrumental activities of daily living — Beyond the ability to feed and bathe oneself, these activities are critical for seniors to live independently, such as being able to drive, manage their own schedule and finances, etc.
  • Person-centered care — You’ll hear this phrase used in reference to senior living arrangements where residents require higher level of care. The purpose of person-centered care is to allow people to make as many decisions for themselves as possible, depending on their individual ability.
  • Resident care plan — This is basically a written document that details the level of care and type of services a resident in a senior care community needs on a daily basis.
  • Respite care — Aimed at helping relieve caregiver stress, respite care can occur in a senior’s home or at a senior living community. Skilled caregivers relieve the senior’s usual caregiver so that person can run errands, go to appointments or just relax for a set amount of time.

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