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Nursing Home Terminology Guide

Nursing Home Terminology Guide

Navigating the different types of senior living can be difficult. There are so many different terms you’ll hear during and after your search, and it’s not easy to keep up with all the words and definitions without some help.

Nursing homes and skilled nursing can be particularly confusing for seniors and their loved ones. Nursing homes offer extensive medical care and increased safety features for seniors recovering from injuries, dealing with chronic medical conditions, or other more intensive needs. Of course, this type of care calls for specific terminology. That’s why we put together this nursing home terminology guide and glossary to help you stay on top of everything you may hear while finding your ideal community.

Common Nursing Home and Skilled Nursing Terms

Activities of daily living (ADL)

Day-to-day activities that people need to do to sustain themselves, such as eating, bathing, and taking medication.


The ability for a senior to walk and move on their own. There are different levels of ambulation, such as an individual who can walk freely or someone who requires the use of a cane, walker, or some other assistive device.

Assisted Living

Older adults living in an assisted living community usually have their own apartment or suite and have access to a range of on-site services such as clinical care, meals, housekeeping and medication management. Residents often require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) but don’t require the extensive medical care provided in a skilled nursing facility.

Care plan

A detailed plan that specifies a resident’s current needs and outlines all the services and support required. Common plan details include goals for the resident, the health professional caring for the resident, timelines for care and medication administration, and other important details.


A person who provides regular assistance to an individual in need of support with daily activities and other needs. Caregivers can be family members, professionals like registered nurses or nursing assistants, or other individuals who provide care and support for the individual in question.

Certified nurse assistant (CNA)

A healthcare professional who performs a variety of direct care services, typically while under the supervision of a nurse. Duties can include answering patient calls, observing conditions, assessing vital signs, and other tasks.

Chronic illness

A health condition or disease that persists or is long-lasting in nature, typically lasting more than three months.


The ability for someone to reason, understand, and acquire knowledge through thought.

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRC)

A senior living community that offers all levels of care for its residents, ranging from independent living through memory care and hospice.

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.

Director of nursing (DON)

A registered nurse (RN) who supervises the ongoing care for all residents within a nursing home or other healthcare facility.

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 that gives someone the authority to make critical decisions on behalf of an individual’s person and/ estate.

Hands-on assistance

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

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

A federal law that requires medical professionals to keep patient information confidential and disallows them from sharing that information with anyone who does not have the authority to see that information.

History and physical (H&P)

A thorough formal assessment of a resident’s senior care needs. This document gives caregivers a full background of when a resident first sought care and serves as the most complete assessment of a senior’s ongoing health history. 

Hospice care

A service designed to provide end-of-life care and comfort for patients and their family. 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

A type of senior living community best suited for seniors who require little or no help with daily activities and want to live independently, stay social, and enjoy a variety of amenities within a community.

Levels of care

The amount of help a senior needs with activities of daily living and other medical support. These levels help dictate which type of senior living is best for a particular senior.

Long-term care (LTC)

Ongoing support and services provided to a senior over a long period of time to help them live as independently and safely as possible. These needs typically go beyond help with activities of daily living (ADLs) and include care for chronic illnesses and other long-lasting medical conditions and needs.

Long-term care insurance

An insurance policy that helps pay for long-term care. This insurance isn’t designed to cover general room and board, instead applying to the cost of care provided in assisted living, nursing homes, and other caregiving facilities. 

Living will

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


The Medicaid program is a partnership between the federal government and states to provide health care to low-income individuals.


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 streamlined system that dictates the medication administration process for seniors. Each step of the process is overseen by medical professionals, including identifying the right drugs, dosage, timing, and administration. 

Memory care

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

Nursing home / Skilled Nursing facility (SNF)

Provides 24-hour nursing care in addition to providing personal care, recreational activities, physical and occupational therapy, and all meals. Many nursing facilities also provide short-term rehabilitation.

Palliative care

Medical care that focuses on relieving the pain and suffering caused by a person’s illness or other health condition.

Personal care

Non-skilled nursing support or care for seniors, such as help with bathing, dressing, using the bathroom, moving around, and other activities of daily living (ADLs).

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 that grant 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 most common source of funding for senior living. Private pay is made up of cash and other personal resources that seniors used to pay for senior living out of pocket. These funds often include saleable assets, retirement accounts, and other private sources.

Quality of life

The overall enjoyment of a person’s life in their current state.


An ongoing process to help restore and enhance different functional abilities that were either lost or diminished over time or because of an injury.


Someone who lives in some form of senior living community, such as independent living or a nursing home.

Senior living community

A collective term for a collection of properties where seniors can move out of their own homes and into a space that provides activities, socialization opportunities, and other benefits. Senior living communities start with independent living and can include assisted living, nursing homes, and other forms of retirement and assistance communities.

Support staff

The portion of a nursing home’s staff that works behind the scenes to provide a clean, safe environment and proper nutrition. Support staff can include custodians, cooks, maintenance professionals, and other essential jobs.

Survey/State survey

A process that all federal- or state-funded nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities must go through to ensure that they are in compliance with legal regulations and standards of care.


The process of moving from one type of care setting to another. For example, the move from the hospital to a nursing home would be considered a transition.

Within normal limits (WNL)

A term used to describe a normal clinical finding, such as when someone’s blood cell counts are within a normal range after a test.

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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