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Assisted Living Industry Terms

As you begin investigating assisted living care for yourself or a loved one, here are some commonly used terms it will be helpful for you to know and understand.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Daily self-care activities including eating, bathing, dressing, grooming, working, homemaking, administering medication, and moving about. The ability or inability to perform specific ADLs can help you select the level of care needed for you or your loved one.

Assisted living

Combines an independent environment and lifestyle with access to onsite health care and support as needed, as opposed to 24-hour medical care provided in a nursing home. Communities often offer dining, social activities, personal care services, and apartment-like facilities. Incorporates a philosophy of promoting independence and dignity, and encourages the involvement of family and friends.


The primary person responsible for supporting or taking care of an aging or disabled senior on a day-to-day basis. They may aid in tasks such as medications, dressing, dining, toileting, and ambulating. Often a family member or spouse, or designated health care provider such as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

A CNA helps patients or clients with healthcare needs under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). Provides personal care to residents, including bathing, dressing, and toileting. Must be trained, tested and certified to provide care in nursing facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.

Continuum of care

A concept of eldercare where a single community will provide adjacent but separate sections offering independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing care, so that seniors can remain within the same community environment if and when their needs for care increase.

Long-term care

Services which help meet both the medical and non-medical needs of people with a chronic illness or disability who cannot care for themselves for long periods of time. Long-term care can be provided at home, in the community, in assisted living facilities, or in nursing homes.

Long-term care insurance

Private insurance that covers the costs of nursing home care, assisted living, and home health care, depending on the type of policy purchased.

Medical Director

Assumes overall responsibility for the formulation and implementation of all policies related to medical care at a care facility. The medical director also coordinates with an individual's personal physician to ensure that the facility delivers the care that is prescribed. In some instances, the medical director may be a resident's primary physician.


Inability to walk, often refers to bed-ridden or hospitalized patients.

Nursing home

Facility licensed by the state that provides 24-hour nursing care, room and board, and activities for convalescent residents and those with chronic and/or long-term care illnesses. Residents may receive physical, occupational, and other rehabilitative therapies, or care with special needs, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. In addition to licensure and certification requirements, nursing homes must also honor the federal Nursing Home Patient’s Bill of Rights. Funding options for nursing home care include: private funding, long-term care insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Occupational therapy

Activity prescribed to help relearn or improve on an Activity of Daily Life (ADL), typically conducted by a licensed therapist.

Physical therapy

Activity prescribed to help treat disease or injury and restore strength or health. Can include massage, regulated exercise, water, light, heat, and electricity, and is conducted by a licensed therapist.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Graduate-trained nurse who has passed a state board examination and is licensed by a state agency. The RN assesses resident needs, develops and monitors care plans in conjunction with physicians, and executes highly technical, skilled nursing treatments.


Therapeutic care to help restore strength, health, or skills; includes physical, occupational, or speech therapy.

Respite care

Short–term or temporary relief to those who are caring for family members who might otherwise require permanent placement in a facility outside the home.

Skilled nursing care

The kind of 24-hour care offered by nursing homes. Skilled nursing care communities attend to the ongoing medical needs of their residents, in addition to providing meals and assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs). Most states require skilled nursing communities or nursing homes to be licensed and submit to regular inspections. Some skilled nursing communities are specialized to provide memory care, or have special memory care units.

Special Care Unit (SCU)

A separate unit within an assisted living or skilled nursing community dedicated to care for residents with specific needs, such as memory care. Laws governing the requirements to operate SCUs differ from state to state.

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