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Assisted Living Terminology Guide

Navigating the senior journey can be quite difficult. We’ve put together a list of common assisted living terms that you and your loved ones should know.

There are several senior living options available for you and your loved ones, but it’s not always easy to keep up with all the terms, titles and definitions used in each space. While some terminology may overlap, others are specific to assisted living or other types of senior living. 

We want to help you make the best, most educated decision possible. That’s why we put this list of assisted living terms together to help you understand the words, phrases, and acronyms you’ll encounter in the future.

Common Assisted Living Terms

Activities of daily living (ADL)

Day-to-day activities that people need to do to sustain themselves. These activities include eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, grooming, and taking medication. The degree of assistance that seniors need with ADLs can dictate the appropriate type of care they need in senior living.

Aging in place

The practice of staying and growing older in the same home. Seniors can age in place at their own home, in independent living, or some other long-term residence and receive care or other assistance regardless of whether their level of care changes over time. 


The ability for a senior to walk and move independently. There are different levels of ambulation, such as whether a person can walk freely or needs the use of a cane, walker, or some other assistive device.

Area Agency on Aging

A government agency that coordinates and offers services for older adults, including Meals-on-Wheels and homemaker services. Each agency typically supports a certain region, such as a whole state, multiple counties, or a specific city. 

Assisted living (AL)

Assisted living is a type of senior living that bridges the gap between living independently and living in a nursing home.

Care plan

A specific process that identifies a resident’s current needs and outlines a plan for all the services and support required. These details include their goals, who will care for the resident, when care is provided, and any other important details.


A person who provides ongoing assistance to a senior who needs help with activities of daily living or other tasks. Caregivers can be both professionals at assisted living communities and other senior living spaces or family members who are helping their loved ones through regular activities and other needs. 

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRC)

A senior living community that offers all levels of care from independent living through memory care and hospice, providing a long-term care option for seniors who want to stay in the same place as they grow older.

Continuum of care

A system where seniors have all levels of care available within a single community so that all their current and potential future needs are provided within the same place.


A general term for a group of conditions characterized by impaired memory, thinking, and decision making, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)

A medical order that instructs medical professionals and other health care providers not to perform CPR or revive someone when their heart stops beating.  There are two different types of DNR order that people can choose – DNR Comfort Care (DNRCC) and DNRCC-Arrest). A DNRCC is active once issued and allows for any care that eases pain and suffering, just without any resuscitative measures. A DNRCC-Arrest becomes active once an individual experiences cardiac or respiratory arrest.


A legal relationship where an individual has the authority to make critical decisions on behalf of an elderly individual. 

Hands-on assistance

Physical assistance from a medical care professional that allows elderly adults to perform activities of daily living.

History and Physical (H&P)

A formal assessment of a resident and their senior care needs. These documents are the most complete assessment of a resident and provide the full “story” of when the resident first sought care and all the details of their ongoing health history.

Hospice care

A service designed to provide end-of-life care and comfort. Hospice care works with seniors and their loved ones to help them plan around the family’s goals and have the best outcome.

Independent living (IL)

A type of senior living community designed for seniors who wish to live independently, stay social, and can live with no or minimal assistance with daily activities.

Levels of care (LOC)

The amount of assistance a senior needs with activities of daily living and other medical support.

Long-term care (LTC)

A variety of services provided to a senior over a long period of time to help them live as independently and safely as possible.

Long-term care insurance

An insurance policy that helps pay for the care provided in assisted living, nursing homes, other long-term care facilities, or with home health services. 

Living will

A written statement that dictates which medical treatments a person would and would not want performed is they are unable to provide express informed consent. This will is also known as a health care directive.


A federal and state program that provides long-term health care coverage to seniors and other people who qualify. While Medicaid does not cover the cost of room and board for assisted living, eligible seniors with Medicaid can use their state’s Assisted Living Waiver (ALW) to help pay for the cost of care.


A national government health insurance program specifically for people aged 65 and older and some individuals under the age of 65 with specific disabilities and health conditions.

Medication management

A system to streamline the medication administration process for seniors and eliminate any potential mistakes. This process involves professionals overseeing every step of medication management, including identifying the right drugs, dosage, timing, and administration. 

Memory care

A type of senior living that provides specialized specialized care for people with dementia and other memory issues.

Nursing home

A long-term senior living community for seniors who need personal care beyond what assisted living can provide or need more support before they can go back home or to their senior living community.

Occupational therapy

A type of therapy that uses everyday activities to help treat injuries, disabilities, and illnesses and helps them regain the skills required to perform daily activities.

Outside services

A variety of services that can be brought into assisted living or other communities to further support residents and their needs, such as home health, hospice, or private duty care.

Palliative care

A medical service designed to help relieve the pain and suffering a person feels when dealing with a serious illness or other condition.

Physical therapy

A rehabilitative medical treatment is used to help individuals restore the ability to perform functional movements, such as walking, lifting arms, and other physical actions. Physical therapy is often performed after someone suffers an injury or some other health issue that limits mobility, creates pain, or causes some other issue that needs rehabilitation.

Power of attorney (POA)

A document that gives someone the authority to legally act on someone else’s behalf. There are different types of power of attorney, each of which grants different powers. These include durable power of attorney, which ensures that the person granted power can continue to act for the individual even after the senior is legally considered incapacitated.

Private pay

The use of personal resources to pay for senior living. The majority of seniors pay out of pocket for their senior living and healthcare needs, which can include personal savings, monthly income, pension payments, retirement accounts, and other private funds.

Quality of life

A person’s overall enjoyment of life in their current state. Senior living focuses on providing housing, services, and care to help improve a person’s quality of life according to the current level of care and personal needs.


The process of helping an individual restore and enhance different functional abilities that were lost or diminished after an injury, illness, or some other health issue. Common forms of rehabilitation include physical, mental, and cognitive care.

Respite care

A short-term (14-30 day stay) form of care that is provided to a sick, elderly, or disabled person when their primary caregiver is temporarily unable to provide support.

Senior living community

A retirement community for seniors looking to move out of their own homes and into a space that provides activities, socialization opportunities, and other benefits. Senior living collectively describes all forms of retirement and assistance communities, from independent living through nursing homes.

Skilled nursing facility (SNF)

A facility that provides skilled nursing care. Seniors are commonly referred to skilled nursing facilities to receive short-term care after an injury, illness, or some other health issue before returning home.


The process of interacting with other people, as social activity is proven to help improve mood, cognition, and more. 

Speech therapy

Rehabilitative training to help people with speech and language problems communicate better and overcome issues.

Need help finding the right senior living option for your ideal lifestyle and care needs? Let National Church Residences help you find a place that’s right for you or your loved ones.

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