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Caregiving Glossary: Most Common Terms Used in Care Skip to content

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Caregiving Glossary

Common terms used when caring for a loved one

Senior Hispanic Woman Weights, Bright Daylit Room, Caregiving Glossary

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Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

En español | Basic tasks of everyday life that include dressing, bathing, eating, transferring (for example, from bed to chair) and toileting.

Adult Day Services

Structured, comprehensive programs — including a variety of health, social and related support services during any part of the day, but for less than 24 hours — provided at local centers for adults who need some supervision or support.

Adult Protective Services

A public agency that investigates reports of abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults; usually works with law enforcement. Immediate dangerous situations should be directed to 911 or local police.

Area Agency on Aging (AAA) or Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC)

An agency designated by the state with the responsibility for planning and coordinating services for older people (AAA) or for older people and adults with disabilities (ADRC) within a specific geographical area. Both agencies provide information, resources, assistance and links to community services.

Assisted Living Residences

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.

Community Meal Program

Balanced, nutritious meals served at community locations for those ages 60 and over and their younger-age spouses.


A person appointed by a court to handle someone’s affairs when that person cannot handle them him- or herself. A conservator usually handles only financial affairs.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

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 designed to meet a person’s changing needs.

Discharge Planner

A professional who assists patients and their families in developing a plan of care for a patient following a hospital or nursing home stay.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order

An order written by a doctor to fulfill a patient’s expressed medical care wishes during a medical emergency.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finances

A legal document that allows a person to give authority to someone else to make financial decisions on his or her behalf. The designation “durable” means that it will stay in effect if the person becomes unable to manage his or her own financial affairs.

Extra Help

An assistance program for people with Medicare who need help paying their part of the costs of Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

A law that requires some employers to let you take unpaid time off work (up to 12 weeks) for illness, having or adopting a baby, or caring for an ill family member. Your job or an equivalent is guaranteed when you return. If you work for a small employer or are a new employee, you may not be able to get the leave.

Family Caregiver

Anyone who provides unpaid assistance to another person who is ill, disabled or needs help with daily activities.

Geriatric Care Manager

A professional who performs an assessment of a person’s mental, physical, environmental and financial conditions to create a care plan to assist in arranging housing, medical, social and other services.


A person appointed by the court who is responsible for the care and management of another person who has been determined to be incapable of making decisions for him- or herself.

Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPA, or Health Care Proxy)

A special kind of durable power of attorney in which you appoint another person to make health care decisions should you become unable to do so.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

A federal law that gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information. It also permits the release of personal health information needed for patient care.

Home-Delivered Meals

Regular delivery of nutritious meals to homebound people who are unable to prepare food for themselves.

Home Health Agency (HHA)

An agency often certified by Medicare to provide health-related services in the home, such as nursing, occupational, speech or physical therapy, social work or personal care.

Home Health Aide

An individual who helps with bathing, dressing, grooming, meals and light housekeeping.

Homemaker Services

A service that provides assistance with general household activities, such as meal preparation, cleaning, laundry and shopping.

Hospice Care

Professionally coordinated support services, including pain and symptom management, social services, and emotional and spiritual support for terminally ill people and their families. The care is provided at home and in other settings.

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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