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Learn the Lingo of Assisted Care

Key terms to know when exploring nursing homes

The Langugae of assisted care

Daniel Hennessy

It is important to understand the differences in the types of assisted living available.

When searching for professional nursing care for a loved one, all of the terminology and nuances can be overwhelming. Here is a guide to get you started on the basics:


  • Skilled nursing facility is the official term for a nursing home that meets the requirements to be eligible for Medicare and Medicaid payments. Nursing care must be available 24 hours a day (including a full-time registered nurse) and a doctor must supervise medical care and record the treatment that each resident receives.
  • Assisted living facilities (ALFs) are lower-cost alternatives to nursing homes for people who are largely able to take care of themselves. ALFs do provide some help with daily activities and a range of amenities, but they don’t typically provide medical assistance.
  • Activities of daily living (ADLs) are the tasks a person must be able to do unassisted in order to live independently. The core activities include bathing, dressing, eating, using the bathroom, “transferring” (getting out of bed or up from a chair, for example) and walking. A nursing home will ask new residents how many ADLs they need assistance with.
  • Home- and community-based services are programs that provide needed ongoing care to patients in their own residence or community, rather than in an institutional setting. These options typically appeal to people who prefer to stay in their home as long as possible and need help with only a few of their daily activities. 
  • Registered nurses (RNs) usually hold either an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing, have passed the exam given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and also have passed all of the state’s licensing requirements. RNs are widely considered to be key components in the quality of care at a nursing home.
  • Memory-care living facilities are retirement communities or nursing homes for people with Alzheimer’s or other memory-related diseases.
  • Continuing care retirement communities offer independent living, assisted living and nursing home care on one campus, so residents don’t have to move as their needs change.

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