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Caregiving Glossary

Common terms used when caring for a loved one

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL)

Basic tasks of everyday life that include managing money, shopping, telephone use, travel in the community, housekeeping, preparing meals and taking medications correctly.

Living Will (Part of a Health Care Directive)

A legal document that communicates a person’s wishes about lifesaving medical treatments, should he or she be in a terminal condition and not able to communicate their health care wishes.

Long-Term Care Insurance

Insurance that can pay part of the cost of care received in the home, assisted living residences, nursing home care and other designated services, depending on the policy purchased.

Long-Term Care Ombudsman

A person who investigates and resolves complaints on behalf of residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.


The national health insurance program for people age 65 and older, and for some younger persons with disabilities. Medicare covers hospital stays, doctor visits, prescription drugs and other health care-related services.

Medicare Savings Program

An assistance program for people with Medicare who need help paying their Medicare expenses, such as premiums and possibly copayments and deductibles for Medicare Parts A and B.


The federal- and state-funded health and long-term care program for people with limited income and assets. It is administered by the states within federal guidelines so eligibility and coverage may differ from state to state. For long-term care services, states have additional eligibility rules.

National Family Caregiver Support Program

A federally funded program available in local communities that provides a range of supports to assist family caregivers who care for their loved ones at home. Services may include caregiver education, training, information, counseling, links to community services and respite.

Nursing Home

A nursing facility that provides intermediate care (assistance with personal care and activities of daily living) or skilled care (24-hour medical, nursing and rehabilitation care); often a transition from hospital to home.

Palliative Care

Professionally coordinated services that focus on physical, mental, social and spiritual needs of those with life-threatening illness and their families. The goal is to maintain the highest level of comfort.

Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)

A portable electronic device with a call button that a person can use to summon help in an emergency.

Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

A form that states what kind of medical treatment patients want toward the end of their lives. Printed on bright pink paper and signed by both doctor and patient, it is designed to improve the quality of life. Available in some states and communities.

Respite Care

A break from providing care for a loved one. It can be provided by either family or friends, or through programs such as attending an adult day services center. You can also have a paid home care worker come to the home.

Social Security

A benefit earned by eligible workers that provides guaranteed inflation-adjusted monthly income for life. People with the required number of quarters in Social Security-covered work who are either disabled or age 62 or over, as well as certain family members, are eligible.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

A monthly benefit to people who are 65 and older, disabled or blind, and who have limited income and assets.

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