Glossary of Terms
24/7 homecare: When a patient receives round the clock care at home from either a nurse or caregiver
55 plus communities: These age-restricted communities are designed for people at least 55 years old. They may include housing options like single-family homes, apartments, townhouses or even mobile homes. They don’t typically provide medical care or similar services for residents.
Activities of daily living or ADLs: Actions a person must do by themselves to engage independently in everyday life, such as bathing, dressing, eating, being mobile, moving from bed to a chair and using the toilet.
Acute care: Medical care given for a short time to treat a specific illness or condition. This can include doctor visits, short hospital stays or surgery.
Adult at risk: An adult in need of extra support due to their age, disability, physical or mental health
Adult care home: Also called an adult family-care home (AFCH) or group home. A small assisted living residence where employees provide for disabled adults or seniors who need help with certain tasks but want to remain as independent as possible. They are an alternative to more restrictive, institutional settings, such as nursing homes, which provide 24 hour nursing care.
Adult day care: Centers that provide companionship and help to older adults who need supervision during the day. The programs can help give a break to a round-the-clock caregiver.
Advance directives: Written statements that communicate individuals’ medical preferences if they become unable to make their own health care decisions. Two types are possible:
- A Living Will: Specifies the types of medical treatment they want at the end of life if they are unable to speak for themselves.
- Health Care Proxy: Identifies a health care agent or attorney-in-fact to serve as spokesperson on medical decisions for an individual who has lost the ability to communicate
Adult nursing: prominent care for individuals over the age of eighteen
Alzheimer’s disease: A type of progressive mental deterioration, affecting memory, and the ability to process thoughts; one form of dementia.
Assisted living facility or ALF: Housing for those who may need help living independently but do not need skilled nursing care. The level of assistance varies among residences and may include help with bathing, dressing, meals, and housekeeping.
Assistive technology devices: Products that improve a person’s ability to live and function independently. Low-tech assistive devices include canes and pill organizers; high-tech items include electric wheelchairs, hearing aids and smartphones.
Automatic pill dispenser: An electronic counter-top device that assists individuals with medication management. It can dispense complex combinations of various medications according to a day and time schedule. Key features that often require a subscription or fee include: compartments to load various medicines, programmable timer to release medications, alerts, and alarms to remind the owner it’s time to take their medication, monitoring, and tracking features often linked to a mobile app.
Cardiologist: A medical doctor who specializes in heart disorders.
Caregiver: A family member or paid professional that takes care of a patient at all hours of the day.
Case Manager: Home health care agency employee who is in charge of a patient’s plan of care including staffing and treatment plan.
Chronic disease: A condition that lasts one year or more and either requires ongoing medical attention or limits a person’s ability to bathe, care for themselves, dress, eat or walk.
Cohousing: A small planned community in which single-family homes, townhouses or rental units are clustered around amenities such as a community kitchen and dining room, common areas for sitting, craft and meeting rooms, gardens and potentially adult and child day care. The goal is to design a neighborhood where people of all ages and family statuses can rely on the informal, mutual support of neighbors to help out.
Comorbidity: The presence, or coexistence, of more than one disorder in the same person. They can occur at the same time or one after the other. Interactions between the illnesses can worsen the course of both.
Competence: In a legal sense, a person’s ability to understand information, make a choice based on that information, and communicate that decision in an understandable way.
Conservator: A person whom a court appoints to handle someone’s affairs when that person cannot do the job. Usually, a conservator handles only finances.
Consumer-directed personal assistance program: A Medicaid program available in several states that permits chronically ill and physically disabled people to choose, train, and supervise workers who help them with activities of daily living such as bathing, light housework, and meal preparation so they can remain in their homes. Some relatives and friends of participants can qualify to be paid through this program.
Continence: The ability to control bowel and bladder function.
Continuing care retirement community or CCRC: Housing that offers a variety of living options and services, including independent living, assisted living, and skilled care, often all on the same campus, and is designed to meet a person’s changing needs.
Copayment or copays: A fixed amount, $20 for example, that one pays for a health care service covered by insurance after payment of the deductible. Let’s say your health plan’s allowable cost for a doctor’s office visit is $100. If you haven’t yet met your deductible for the year, you’ll pay the full $100. If you have met the deductible, you pay the $20 copay, usually at the time of the visit.
Custodial care: Nonmedical care that helps individuals with bathing, dressing, and other basic care that most people do themselves, such as using eye drops. It can occur in a range of environments including adult day care, assisted living centers, and residential care facilities.
Deductible: A certain amount of money that an individual must pay before the insurance company will pay off the rest.
Delirium: Short-term confused thinking and disrupted attention usually accompanied by disordered speech and hallucinations.
Dementia: A general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but not all dementia comes from Alzheimer’s.
Dependents: the members of one’s family that rely on them financially.
Depression: A mental disorder where a patient constantly feels down, lonely and lost the desire to do anything.
Dermatologist: A medical doctor who specializes in skin disorders.
Dialysis: A clinical process occurring outside of the body filtering blood, when a patient’s kidneys’ fail to do so.
Discharge planner: A professional who assists patients and their families in developing a method of care for a patient following a hospital or nursing home stay.
Do not resuscitate order or DNR: A type of advance directive in which a person states that health care providers should not attempt to restart the heart through cardiopulmonary resuscitation if the heart or breathing stops.
Domiciliary care: When a care worker provides help and support at a patient’s home.
Dose pack: A specialized packaging method for organizing and dispensing medications (usually tablets or capsules). The packs typically include the name of each medication and the day and time to take them, making it easier and safer for patients who take multiple medications at different times during the day.
Durable power of attorney: A legal document that gives someone you choose the authority to act financially, legally and medically in your place if you become incapacitated and unable to handle matters on your own. It remains in effect until the person who grants it either cancels it or dies.
Elder care: Elderly care, or simply elder care, serves the needs of older adults. It encompasses assisted living, adult daycare, long-term care, nursing homes, hospice care, and home care.
Elder care medication management: The end-to-end process of organizing, monitoring, and administering medications for older adults, ideally in their home, to ensure safe and effective use of medications. This process should be done under the guidance of a medical professional who understands the senior’s medical history and treatment strategy with the goal of preventing medication errors, reducing adverse drug reactions, promoting adherence, and improving overall health outcomes.
End-of-life doula, or a death doula: An individual who provides nonmedical comfort and support to a dying person and their family. This may include education and guidance as well as emotional, spiritual or practical care.
Endocrinologist: A medical doctor who specializes in hormonal and metabolic disorders, including diabetes.
Extended care: Short-term or temporary care in a rehabilitation hospital or nursing home with the goal of returning a patient home.
Family and Medical Leave Act or FMLA: A federal labor law that provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid, job-protected leave to accommodate some family and medical situations. The law also requires that employees’ group health benefits be maintained during the leave.
Family or informal caregiver: Any relative, partner, friend or neighbor who has a significant personal relationship with and provides a broad range of assistance for an adult with a chronic or disabling condition.
Freedom care: In-home care provider where a patient can pay a family member whom they are comfortable with to care for them.
Gastroenterologist: A medical doctor who specializes in digestive disorders.
Generic: A medical consumer product without a brand name or registered trademark.
Geriatric care manager or aging life care professional: A specialist who assesses a person’s mental, physical, environmental, and financial conditions to create a care plan to assist in arranging housing, medical, social, and other services.
Geriatrics: The branch of medicine that cares and focuses on elders.
Geriatrician: A medical doctor who has completed a residency in either family medicine or internal medicine and focuses on older adults.
Guardianship: A court-sanctioned legal relationship in which a person is given legal authority over another when that other person is unable to make safe and sound decisions regarding his or her person or property.
Health care proxy: A type of durable power of attorney in which people appoint another person to make healthcare decisions for them if they become unable to do so.
Hematologist: A medical doctor who specializes in blood disorders.
Homebound: The inability to leave ones house due to having a severe or terminal illness.
Home health agency: A company or nonprofit, often certified by Medicare, that provides health-related services such as nursing, personal care, social work, or occupational, physical or speech therapy in a client’s home.
Home health aide: A trained and certified health care worker who assists a patient in the home. Duties typically include help with hygiene and exercise, light household work such as meal preparation, and monitoring the patient’s condition.
Home health care or in home personal care: Allows seniors to stay in their own home and have health care services brought in. Residents often have their homes modified to accommodate their changing needs. They have access to a range of home care services that include in-home help to daycare services.
Homemaker services: Light housekeeping, meal preparation, washing clothes, shopping, and other tasks workers from state-certified agencies perform for people who need assistance in their homes. Medicare does not cover these services, but in some states Medicaid programs help qualified low-income adults pay for them.
Hospice: A home providing care with specialized nurses and equipment for the severely or terminally ill.
Hospice care: A treatment regime for people who have an advanced, life-limiting, often incurable illness. Considered a type of palliative care, hospice focuses on the patient’s psychological well-being and on managing symptoms of a disease rather than the disease itself, so they can spend their last days with dignity and quality, surrounded by loved ones.
Incontinence: Inability of a person’s body to control bowel or bladder functions.
Independent living: An age-restricted option for a house, condominium or apartment, sometimes offered as part of a continuing care retirement community, that has few services as part of the basic rate. Those that are included are more often related to convenience, such as landscaping or a clubhouse.
Informed consent: The process of making decisions about medical care or medical experimentation based on open and honest communication among the health care provider, the patient, and the patient’s family.
Inpatient care: Care provided in one’s home or a communal home where there is round the clock help from nurses.
Instrumental activities of daily living or IADLs: Tasks that a person must perform routinely in order to live independently (paying bills, using the phone etc.)
Intermittent care: Skilled nursing care for either less than 7 days or less than 8 hours per day for twenty one days.
Licensed Pharmacist: A healthcare professional who has obtained a license to distribute prescription drugs to patients and advise them on proper dosage, possible side effects, and health outcomes. Individuals typically have completed a doctor of pharmacy program (PharmD), and passed the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). Pharmacists play a critical role in patient safety and work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care residences as well as community pharmacies.
Licensed practical nurse or LPN: A person who has completed nursing or vocational training and obtained a state license that authorizes the person to take care of basic duties in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Live-in care: Having a professional, fully trained individual care for you and live in your house.
Living will: A legal document in which the signer requests to be allowed to die rather than be kept alive by artificial means if disabled beyond a reasonable expectation of recovery.
Long-distance caregiving: When a patient is hours away from their caregiver, primary contact is over the phone.
Long-term care insurance: Coverage that helps policyholders pay for long-term care in their home or at a nursing home or assisted living facility, or for other designated services, depending on the policy.
Long-term care ombudsman: An advocate for residents of nursing homes, residential care homes and assisted living facilities. Ombudsmen are trained to resolve problems; they provide information on how to find a facility and what to do to get high-quality care.
Meals on Wheels: A service that delivers daily hot meals to the homes of elderly or disabled people.
Medicaid: Government-provided health care coverage for eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults, and people with disabilities. States and the US government share the cost of Medicaid, with states administering the program according to federal requirements. As of May 2021, nearly 76 million people were covered in Medicaid, and enrollment has grown by more than 18 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Medical doctor or MD: A health care professional who has graduated from an approved medical school, received additional training in a hospital, passed a federal medical licensing exam and qualified for a state license. Specialists must complete an additional three to nine years of postgraduate work in their practice area.
Medical record: Confidential documents where all immunizations, illnesses, surgeries and other medical histories are located.
Medicare: A federal government program that provides medical insurance if you are 65 or older, under 65 and receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, or under 65 and diagnosed with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Medicare Part A is hospital insurance, and Medicare Part B covers certain doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services. In 2020, 626 million people were enrolled in Medicare, 541 million of them on the basis of age.
Medicare Advantage, also called Medicare Part C: Private health plans that offer all benefits covered by “original” Medicare (parts A and B) but may also provide non-Medicare-covered benefits such as prescription drug coverage, dental and vision coverage, and even gym memberships, usually for an additional premium.
Medicare Savings Program or MSP: A federally funded, state-administered program that helps people with limited income and resources pay some or all of their Medicare premiums, deductibles, copayments and coinsurance.
Medicare telehealth services: Medicare-covered visits with health care professionals conducted via phone or video chat. Initially offered on a limited basis to people in rural areas, these services have expanded considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic, with telehealth now available to all Medicare enrollees and for a greater variety of visits and services at least until the end of the federally declared public health emergency.
Medication adherence: The extent to which individuals follow their prescribed medication regimen as directed by their healthcare provider. The desired therapeutic outcome and the maximum effectiveness of treatment is best achieved by correctly taking medications according to the prescribed schedule,the recommended dosage, with or without food, and by following any special instructions specified for the patient. Support services and technology (e.g. smartphone reminders) can significantly improve adherence.
Medication management for seniors: For many seniors, filling, and utilizing a pill box is their primary tool for medication management. When a medication regimen grows to 5 or more prescriptions taken multiple times a day, nonadherence becomes a serious health issue, often leading to emergency room visits and the need to consider assistance in the home in order to age in place. Technology and both family and professional caregivers, working with licensed pharmacists and doctors, are key players in simplifying the process and minimizing the risk for seniors at home when a medication regimen gets complex.
Medigap, also called Medicare supplemental insurance: Private policies designed to pay costs not covered using original Medicare. For example, Medigap plans might cover your Medicare copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles, or services original Medicare doesn’t cover, such as care when you travel outside the United States.
Memory cafe: A gathering place that provides a safe and supportive environment where individuals with dementia or other brain disorders and their caregivers can socialize, provide mutual support, and exchange information.
Memory support or memory care communities: Separate facilities or specialized units of an assisted living center that focus on helping people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, where the staff is specifically trained to deal with recall problems and other impairments. These facilities are typically protected with security doors for the safety of the residents (e.g. Alzheimer’s and dementia care).
National Family Caregiver Support Program or NFCSP: A federal program that provides grants to states and territories for efforts to provide respite care, training, counseling and other supports that help caregivers to care for loved ones at home for as long as possible.
Nephrologist: A medical doctor who specializes in kidney disorders.
Neurologist: A medical doctor who specializes in nervous system disorders.
Nurse aide: A health care worker trained to assist nurses in any circumstance.
Nurse practitioner or NP: A primary care provider with graduate training in advanced practice nursing who has the authority to order tests, write referrals, and prescribe medicines.
Nursing home: A public or private residential facility providing a high level of long-term personal or medical care for chronically ill, disabled, and older people who are unable to care for themselves properly.
Oncologist: A medical doctor who specializes in cancer treatment.
Online pharmacy: An online pharmacy, internet pharmacy, or mail-order pharmacy is a state licensed, U.S. based pharmacy offering the sale of medications over the internet with the convenience of home delivery. These online pharmacies follow regulatory standards, employ licensed pharmacists who verify and dispense doctor-prescribed medication, and employ encryption and secure payment gateways to protect sensitive customer personal, health, and financial information. Some also provide customer support services to provide medication details for their customers.
Ophthalmology: A medical doctor who specializes in eye disorders.
Orthopedic surgeon or orthopedist: A medical doctor who specializes in bone and connective tissue disorders.
Osteopath or DO: A doctor who has completed four years of medical school and has had 300 to 500 additional hours in the study of hands-on manual medicine and the body’s musculoskeletal system. These doctors are state licensed and may have completed a two- to six-year residency and passed state examinations to become board certified.
Otolaryngologist, otorhinolaryngologist, or ear, nose, and throat doctor: A medical doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat or ENT problems.
Outpatient care or ambulatory care: Health care procedures and treatment that do not require overnight hospitalization.
Over-the-counter or OTC: A medication that can be bought without a valid prescription from a doctor or pharmacy.
Palliative care: Specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Unlike hospice care, which is typically given to people with terminal conditions who are nearing the end of life, palliative care can coincide with treatments to arrest or cure a disease.
Parkinson’s disease: A disorder of the central nervous system that affects the movement of a patient.
Patient advocate: A professional who can resolve concerns about someone’s health care experience, particularly problems that cannot be taken care of immediately. These problems often include hospital billing and insurance coverage disputes.
Personal Care Coordinator or PCC: A trained technician that takes care of your medication with your doctors and physicians.
Personal care services or PCS: A broad term used to refer to help with personal hygiene and other self-care, such as bathing, dressing, eating, going to the bathroom, maintaining personal appearance, and walking, provided by in-home personal care aides (PCAs). Some PCAs also help with meal preparation, grocery shopping and money management.
Personal emergency response system or PERS: Can also be known as a medical alert system. An alarm system that lets someone experiencing a medical or personal emergency such as a fall summon help. Traditional systems are triggered by the user pressing a button on a wearable device like a bracelet, sending a radio signal to a console connected to a phone, which calls an emergency response center. In recent years, some smartphones and other connected devices like smartwatches have incorporated medical alert functions.
Physician assistant or PA: A health care professional with a master’s degree who works in collaboration with a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathic medicine, often in a primary care setting.
Pill box or organizer: A container used to organize multiple medication doses over a fixed period of time, typically for Monday through Friday, to improve adherence, reduce the risks of missing scheduled doses, or mixing up the medications that could lead to adverse reactions. Pill boxes are safest for chronic, regimented conditions (e.g. diabetes) and should be kept out of reach of children.
Plan of care: A patients carefully curated program of care over a certain time period.
Podiatrist or DPM: A doctor with specialized training in treating foot and ankle problems.
Polypharmacy: The use of multiple medications by an individual, often combining prescription, over-the-counter, and supplements, where they are taking more than is considered clinically necessary for their medical condition. This typically occurs in individuals with complex health conditions or older adults with multiple chronic diseases. When they have more than one doctor or do not have a regular pharmacist reviewing their entire regimen, patients may take too many medications which increases the risk of drug to drug interactions which can lead to adverse side effects, reduced effectiveness or increased toxicity.
Power of attorney or POA: A legal document that gives someone you choose the authority to act on your behalf, usually on financial matters.
Primary care physician or PCP: The doctor that you see first for checkups and health problems. Sometimes these health care professionals have family practices for all ages; others specialize in internal medicine for adults or pediatrics for children.
PRN Medication: Medications that are taken on an as-needed basis. These are typically prescribed to provide relief or management of symptoms, specifically when they occur instead of on a fixed schedule. Examples of PRN medications are Tylenol or Advil to relieve pain, antihistamines to relieve allergy symptoms, and rescue inhalers during episodes of breathing difficulty.
Psychiatrist: A medical doctor who specializes in emotional and mental disorders, and who can also prescribe medication.
Psychologist: A specialist, but not a medical doctor, who can talk with patients and their families about emotional and personal matters and can help them make decisions.
Qualified Medicare Beneficiary or QMB: Provides Medicare coverage of Part A and Part B premiums and cost sharing to low-income Medicare beneficiaries. In 2017, 7.7 million people (more than one out of eight people with Medicare) were in the QMB program. It is also for people also enrolled in Medicaid.
Radiologist: A medical doctor who specializes in X-rays and related procedures such as computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound tests.
Referral: The directing of a patient to a specialized doctor from their primary care physician.
Registered nurse or RN: A health professional who has graduated from a nursing program, passed a state board examination and has a state license.
Rehabilitation hospital: A medical facility providing therapy and training for the restoration of physical function or cognitive skills following a serious injury, illness or medical event, such as a stroke.
Remote patient monitoring or RPM: A subcategory of telehealth services that allows patients to use mobile medical devices and technology to gather patient-generated health data, such as weight, blood pressure and heart rate, and send it to healthcare professionals.
Residential care home: Also known as board and care homes, group homes or adult family homes. These facilities offer a similar setting to in-home care and with live-in care-takers. Senior care services may vary greatly, but most offer assistance with ADLs and recreational opportunities.
Respite care: Short-term or temporary care of a sick, disabled or older person for a few hours, days or weeks, designed to provide relief to the regular caregiver.
Retirement home: A complex/house which houses elderly individuals.
Rheumatologist: A medical doctor who specializes in pain and other symptoms related to joints and other parts of the musculoskeletal system, such as bones, cartilage, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.
Senior care facilities: An assisted living residence or assisted living facility is a housing facility for people with disabilities or for adults who cannot or who choose not to live independently.
Senior care options: Alternate living facilities including independent living communities, assisted living communities, nursing homes, memory support, respite care, residential care homes, home care companies, hospice care, aging in place.
Senior center: A physical location providing opportunities for older adults to get active, enjoy various social activities and improve their overall quality of life.
Senior living communities: Senior living communities are communities or housing arrangements designed to cater to the living requirements of older adults and provide safe, healthy, and comfortable long-term care.
Skilled care: Nursing or rehabilitation services that a doctor orders and that licensed health professionals such as nurses and physical therapists provide.
Skilled Nursing Facility or SNF: A nursing facility with the staff and equipment to give skilled care to all patients needs.
Social Security: The US government’s social insurance program, providing monthly benefit payments to retired workers age 62 and older, their spouses (or ex-spouses), children and survivors, and people with disabilities that prevent them from working for an extended period. The system is funded by payroll tax contributions workers make throughout their careers, with monthly benefit amounts determined primarily by their lifetime earnings history.
Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI: Monthly benefit payments to people below retirement age with a significant illness or impairment that prevents them from working for at least a year or is expected to result in death. Eligibility is based on past work in which the person paid Social Security taxes and is reviewed periodically to make sure the disability continues to restrict them from working.
Solo ager: Older adults that are making decisions about their future independently. You might be a solo ager if you are:
- An individual or couple without children
- An individual who never married or had children
- An individual living alone since the divorce or death of a partner
- An individual or couple whose children or relatives live far away or are estranged
It is important to understand solo aging because many older adults fall into this category, and many more will become solo agers in the future. Solo aging can be full of joys and assets, but early planning is crucial to maintain choice, independence, and satisfaction throughout later life. This means planning so that your home, finances, medical team, and social community are set up for aging well.
Standing medication: Also referred to as “routine” or “scheduled medications”, these are prescribed to be taken on a regular, ongoing basis. They are typically used for chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, maintenance of a symptom to prevent disease progression like immunosuppressants for organ transplant recipients, or preventatively for specific conditions like statins to reduce cholesterol levels.
Sundown syndrome or sundowning: A state of confusion that occurs later in the afternoon and into the night. It is most often found in patients who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and includes a range of behaviors such as increased confusion, anxiety, agitation, and sleeplessness.
Supplemental Security Income or SSI: A program the Social Security Administration oversees that pays monthly benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older.
Surrogate: An individual appointed to act in place of another.
Urologist: A medical doctor who specializes in disorders of the male reproductive system as well as the male and female urinary tract.
Vital signs: Signs of life, specifically a person’s heart rate or pulse, breathing rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. They show doctors how well a person’s body is functioning.
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