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Posted by Positive Aging Community on 06/15/2022

Understanding Senior Living: A glossary of key terms

Understanding Senior Living: A glossary of key terms

Like most industries, the senior living industry is ripe with acronyms and “insider” terms that can quickly become overwhelming. Sourcebook is filled with articles that will take the mystery out of the industry.

This glossary is a compilation of key terms from all of our articles to help readers quickly find—and define—terms they may hear while calling providers or performing additional research.


A seal of approval given by an independent organization to a community or service provider. Communities or providers must meet high standards set by the organization and submit to regular inspections and reviews.

 Active Adult Communities

Communities designed for active adults who do not need healthcare services. Communities typically feature an array of amenities and are often adjacent to golf courses. Individuals must be 55 or older to move into these communities.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Activities that are typically performed on a daily basis including eating, bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting, and medication management.

Advance Directives

Legal documents that express an individual’s wishes with regard to medical decisions. These can include living wills, powers of attorney and health care proxies. They provide direction to an appointed agent to speak on behalf of a person who is unable to speak for himself.

Administration on Aging (AoA)

An agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. AoA promotes the well-being of older individuals by providing services and programs designed to help them live independently in their homes and communities.

Adult Day Care

Facilities that offer socialization, activities and necessary supervision for seniors during the day. Assistance may also be available with the activities of daily living.

Aging in Place

The idea that seniors can choose to remain in their home living environments despite the physical and/or mental decline that may occur with aging.

Aging Life Care Professionals

Health and human services specialists who act as a guide and advocate for families who are caring for older relatives or disabled adults. Also known as Geriatric Care Managers.

Aging Life Care Association (ALCA)

Organization that represents Aging Life Care Professionals. Members must meet stringent education, experience and certification requirements.

Alzheimer’s Disease

A type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs)

Organizations that serve senior populations in their local areas. AAAs receive federal funding under the Older Americans Act and most supplement that funding with additional state and local revenues. AAAs provide a broad range of services for seniors and their families. To find your AAA, visit n4a.org.

Assisted Living/Personal Care Communities

Communities that offer residents housing and supportive services delivered by qualified staff members. Assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs) is available. Amenities vary widely but all communities offer basic services, including meals, supervision and security. In Pennsylvania, Assisted Living is also known as Personal Care.


The primary person charged with caring for an older adult or individual with a disability. Caregivers can be a family member or a designated healthcare professional.

Certified Senior Housing Professionals (CSHPs)

Real estate professionals who have completed extensive coursework on how best to assist older adults and their families in the home buying or selling process.

Companion Care

A type of home care delivered by caregivers, or companions, who serve as surrogate family members. Assistance can include meal preparation, medication reminders, laundry, light housekeeping, shopping, transportation and assistance with exercising

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)

Communities offering long-term contracts that guarantee lifelong shelter and access to specified health care services. Different levels of care are available to residents including independent living, assisted living and nursing care. See also Life Plan Communities.

Continuum of Care

Spectrum of care available at life plan communities (also known as continuing care retirement communities). This spectrum includes care options ranging from independent living to nursing and rehabilitation care. Residents can move up or down this continuum of care as needed.


Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.

Elder Law Attorneys

Individuals who specialize in areas of the law that are particularly relevant to seniors and their families. They may receive specialized training and certifications from professional organizations.

Entrance Fees

The fees paid by residents when entering a retirement community. Entrance fees vary widely depending on the type of agreement selected.


Individuals who are restricted to their residence because of a permanent disability or disease.

Home Care

Healthcare and supportive services offered by professionals in private homes. Home care can include companion care, home healthcare and skilled nursing care.

Home Health Care

Care provided in the home for individuals who are no longer able to perform the activities of daily living alone, but who do not need skilled medical services.

Hospice Care

Care that is offered to patients with a terminal diagnosis. Hospice includes supportive services, pain and symptom management, social services, and emotional and spiritual support.

Independent Living Communities

Residential communities for active older adults. Communities offer various amenities and activities. Home and exterior maintenance is included.

Life Plan Communities

Properties offering a combination of living options for older adults, including independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing services. Different levels of care are generally all offered on a single campus. Residents have the option to have all their current or future healthcare needs met without ever leaving campus. See also Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs).


Federal program designed to provide health coverage for low-income people. States administer their Medicaid programs individually, resulting in variations in coverage across the country.


Federal health insurance program for people age 65 or older. Certain people younger than age 65 can qualify for Medicare, too, including those with disabilities and those who have permanent kidney failure.

Memory Care

Specialized care delivered by communities that are equipped to handle patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. 

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA)

A national professional association. Members are attorneys who are experienced and trained in the legal problems of aging Americans and individuals of all ages with disabilities.

National Elder Law Found. (NELF)

A national organization certifying practitioners of elder and special needs law.

Nursing & Rehabilitation Centers 

(Skilled Nursing Care Centers)

Facilities that provide care administered by professionals under the direction of a physician. Centers may serve as permanent residences for individuals who are too sick or frail to live at home. Short-term care is also available for those who are rehabilitating from surgery or an injury. Also known as Skilled Nursing Care Centers.

Personal Care

See Assisted Living.


Care that helps patients recover from an illness or injury. Generally offered at Nursing & Rehabilitation Centers.

Senior Move Managers

Professionals who assist older adults and their families with the emotional and physical aspects of relocation.

Senior Real Estate Specialists

Realtors who are specially trained to manage the sale of a home for consumers over the age of 50.

Skilled Nursing Care (In Home)

A type of home care prescribed by a physician and administered by a registered nurse.

VA Benefits

Benefits available for individuals who have served their country in the armed forces. Benefits are provided through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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