Home Care Glossary of Terms

female caregiver with older client

Providing assistance to a loved one in terms of their care and treatment can be a bit daunting, and at times even confusing. As you begin to look for care you may hear several acronyms and terms that are unfamiliar to you. We have put together this glossary of terms to use as a reference to help you give better help to your loved-one.

24-Hour Home Care: This is when two or more caregivers work shifts to provide in-home care over a 24-hour period. The maximum period of time a caregiver can work is 12 hours, some clients prefer three caregivers each working 8 hour shifts. These caregivers are paid hourly, and not required a break for sleep.

Activities for Daily Living (ADLs): These are the daily activities most of us take for granted, but are vital to the care of a loved one’s quality of life and personal hygiene. Some of these activities include using the bathroom, bathing, dressing, eating, cooking, and moving around the house.

Adult Daycare: A non-residential facility that provides social interaction and care for clients who need supervision throughout the day. These programs can help in delaying or preventing around the clock residential care by providing an alternative solution.

Adult Foster Care: Also referred to as AFC, is a program that allows trained and certified individuals to be appointed caregivers for adults who need assistance and are unable to live independently. This is a Medicaid program that is offered to individuals who require significant care that they could only access in a residential care facility.

Adult Foster Home: A home that provides support and assistance to seniors and disabled adults. The range of care varies from home to home, while some offer medical care others only support day-to-day tasks, such as shopping and transport. This is a great option for those who need extra support, but also have the ability to come and go as they please. Adult Foster Homes are also referred to as board and care homes.

Advance Directive: This is a legally binding document that instructs a patient’s doctor and family what type of care the patient wants if they are unable to tell them directly. An advance directive is often used in cases of coma, serious injury, terminal illness, or severe dementia. This type of document should cover the kind of care and treatment a patient would want depending on their condition.

Alzheimer’s Disease: A progressive disease that is marked by loss of memory and other cognitive functions, symptoms can eventually become so severe that they inhibit an individual’s day-to-day. It is caused by the deterioration of brain cell connections and the cells themselves.

Ambulation: This refers to an individual’s ability to walk, whether it is with or without an assistive device.

Arthritis: The inflammation of one or more joints caused by wear and tear, an underlying disease, or infection. Arthritis causes joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and can restrict the range of motion. It is often treated with medications, physical therapy, or surgery.

Assisted Living Facility (ALF): This is a residential housing facility that provides personal care and assistance to older adults, and those with a disability. These facilities offer residents assistance with ADLs, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and encouraging social engagement.

Autism: Also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a disorder that inhibits development, hindering the ability to communicate and interact with others. The severity can range, and early detection and therapies can help in reducing an individual’s symptoms.

Care Plan (or Plan of Care): This is a document that provides a set of guidelines and standards to meet a specific individual’s needs for care. This type of plan can help in giving direction to both the individual and those caring for them, by stating care strategies and the data on the client. It is helpful in creating continuity in the care provided.

Caregiver: A caregiver is anyone, paid or unpaid, who provides assistance and care to another on a regular basis. Often caring for children, eldery, sick, or the disabled.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): This is a method used to revive an individual in order to protect brain functioning, and assist in the recirculation of blood. It is performed through quick chest compressions, and providing artificial breath to the individual. To find out more on how to become CPR certified visit the American Heart Association.

Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CRRN): This is a nursing professional who has been trained and certified in the practices of rehabilitation care. A CRRN has a track record and knowledge in assisting and caring for those with disabilities and chronic illness.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS): An agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that is responsible for overseeing major healthcare services and initiatives. This is the agency that manages Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the government sponsored healthcare marketplaces.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): This is a group of diseases that cause inflammation and obstructed airflow to and from the lungs making it difficult to breathe. Also referred to as chronic obstructive lung disease.

Client: This refers to the individual receiving care from caregivers, services, and providers.

Comorbidity: When a patient is diagnosed with the presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions. The term refers specifically to the effects any coexisting conditions may have on the primary diagnosis.

Companion Care: A type of care that focuses on positive mental well-being, and combats feelings of isolation. A companion can help with transportation to and from activities, shopping, or just having someone to help them pursue their favorite hobbies. Our seasoned companion caregivers are trained to provide the best care to those in need of daily living tasks and good old-fashioned camaraderie. Find out more here.

Competence: This refers to the ability to perform the complex cognitive tasks that are required when someone is living on their own. This is primarily used as a legal term.

Continence: This is the ability to maintain control over bladder and bowel movements.

Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC): These are retirement communities that offer different levels of care, allowing residents to continue living in the same place as their needs in terms of care increases. These communities provide accommodations for clients looking for independent living, assisted living, and nursing home care.

Dementia: This refers to a group of conditions that impair an individual’s cognitive functions. Dementia is marked by the deterioration of two or more brain functions, such as a loss of memory and awareness. It can manifest as confusion, a diminished ability to socialize, forgetfulness, and impaired cognitive abilities that inhibit an individual’s day-to-day. Some causes of dementia are reversible, and when not medications and therapies can be used to help manage symptoms.

Depression: Depression is an illness that can impede an individual’s quality of life. Often those who struggle will feel lonely, lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and a general day-to-day sadness that is difficult to move past and manage. Depression is treatable with holistic practices, as well as medications. Too often those struggling with chronic illness or a disability can begin to struggle with symptoms of depression, it is important to find help and support in order to combat symptoms before escalation. To find out more information please visit the American Psychiatric Association.

Discharge Planner: This refers to a social worker or other professional that assists a patient and their family in the steps that come after being discharged from the hospital. They are there to help provide a smooth transition from the hospital into a new care setting such as in-home care or long-term care facility.

Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Order: This is an advance directive requested by the patient declining CPR in the case that their heart stops beating or if they stop breathing.

Elder Abuse: This can be a single or repeated action that violates the trust and quality of life of someone 60 years of age or older. This type of abuse can be physical, emotional, or financial and often is inflicted by someone the victim trusts. It is so important to keep loved ones out of harm’s way and to not ignore any signs of possible abuse. If you suspect you or anyone you know to be at risk or affected by domestic violence please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

End-of-Life Doula: Also known as a death midwife, is a trained professional who provides support for both the individual and their family as they face the end of their life. The primary goal of an end-of-life doula is to support healthy ways of coping with death, and helping the individual’s loved ones recognize that it is both a natural and important part of life.

End-of-Life Planning: A plan created for a client as they approach the end of their life. This plan often includes the type of treatment and care they would like to receive as they approach the end of their life.

Extended Care: Short-term generalized health or nursing care provided to a client. These services are primarily provided in extended care facilities such as a rehabilitation hospital or a nursing home. The goal of this care is to get the individual well enough to return home.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): This is a United States labor law that was passed in 1993. The legislation requires employers to provide employees with job-protection and unpaid leave to accommodate for medical and family circumstances. It also states that health benefits must continue throughout the time of absence.

Geriatrician: A medical doctor who specializes in elderly care. There are many benefits that come with visiting a geriatrician, the primary advantage being that they have years of experience dealing with the complexities and overlapping ailments that inflict patients 60 years of age or older. This advantage can lead to early detection and prevention of a health condition that may otherwise go undetected.

GrandPad: A tablet developed specifically with seniors in mind. Grandpad takes away all the complications of other tablets by coming preloaded with applications for connecting with loved ones. It is a great way to introduce technology as a means to connect, while not overwhelming or making the process complicated and confusing. To find out more about GrandPad click here.

Healthcare Power of Attorney (HCPA): When a client is incapable of making a decision about their own care, someone is appointed to represent them in care going forward. This term also refers to the legally binding document signed that appoints the individual as the client’s agent or healthcare proxy.

Homebound: A requirement in qualifying for Medicare’s home health benefit. Someone is considered homebound when it is difficult to leave their house, and they typically do not. This means that the individual may need another individual’s help in getting out of the house, or the assistance of equipment (walker, wheelchair, etc.). After an individual begins home healthcare their doctor will access their status every 60 days to make any adjustments to their plan of care.

Hospice Care: An end-of-life care program that provides comfort and support when faced with the last phases of a life-limiting illness. Hospice care provides individuals and their loved ones with medical, emotional, and spiritual support they may need to feel fulfilled and comfortable during the difficult time.

Incontinence: When an individual lacks the ability to maintain control over their bladder and bowel movements.

Independent Senior Living: This refers to communities and housing that are developed specifically for seniors that are 55 and older.

Informal Caregiver: This is a friend, family member, neighbor, or anyone else who has a significant relationship who acts as a caregiver to a loved one. These individuals provide significant assistance and care to loved one with a chronic illness or disability.

In-home Personal Care: This is basic caregiving assistance in everyday tasks. In-home personal care allows an individual to stay in their home while still receiving the help they may need with ADLs, transport, meal preparation, and housekeeping. This is sometimes referred to as “companion care” or “non-medical care.”

Ischemia: This is when damage or disease prevents adequate blood flow to the heart or another major organ. Ischemia often occurs due to a buildup of plaque causing the arteries to narrow obstructing the flow of blood. It can be managed through by an individual making adjustments to their lifestyle, medications, angioplasty, and surgery.

Live-in Care: A professional caregiver that assists clients on 24-hour shift. A live-in carer assists in day-to-day activities, provides around the clock care, and helps the client to live independently. The carer is given an 8-hour sleep period. The client must provide acceptable sleeping arrangements for the carer.

Living Will: A type of advance directive that outlines the treatment the patient would prefer if they were rendered terminally ill or permanently unconscious.

Long-term Care Insurance: An insurance policy that covers all or part of assisted living services and in-home care. This coverage is provided by private insurance companies, and provides better benefits than Medicare alone.

Managed Care: Managed care refers to any plan that actively monitors the services received by individuals. The intended purpose of these plans is to reduce costs of for-profit health insurance while improving the quality of care. Some of the techniques used to lower costs while improving care include cost sharing, provider networks, and utilization review.

Medicare Beneficiary: Someone who qualifies for receiving government assistance in meeting any hospital, medical, and other healthcare costs. Find out more on what is covered and who qualifies here.

MS: Stands for Multiple Sclerosis. This is a rare disease that inhibits the central nervous system. MS occurs when the immune system attacks the protective layer covering nerve fibers, preventing the body and brain from communicating. There is no cure for MS, however treatment options are available and those diagnosed can often have long periods of remission in which they experience no attacks.

Myocardial Infarction: This is also known as a heart attack and occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the heart. To find out more visit the American Heart Association

Nurse Aide: Also known as a home health aide, is an individual trained to assist nurses. Often they will work with clients in their home, assisting them with basic care and ADLs. This type of assistance does not include medical care or treatment but is focused on the day-to-day tasks.

Observed Tasks of Daily Living (OTDLs): The OTDL is a behavioral assessment of everyday competence. The assessment measures general health, everyday problem solving, verbal ability, memory, inductive reasoning, and perceptual speed. The assessment is performed in three sections: medication use, telephone use, and financial management. Find more information on the parameters here.

Palliative Care: This care is focused on reducing symptoms for a client. In the case of complex diseases curing the patient is not always an option, this treatment focuses instead on quality of life by diminishing symptoms.

Paratransit Services: Transportation services offered specifically to seniors and those with a disability. These services often do not have fixed routes or schedules, usually serving those in need of transport on-demand. Find more information on these services here.

Parkinson’s Disease: This is a disorder that affects the central nervous system and can cause stiffness and tremors. Parkinson’s disease forms due to nerve cell damage that leads to lower dopamine levels. Find out more information by visiting the Parkinson’s Foundation.

Personal Care: This is a term used to refer to a wide-range of activities that pertain to caring for oneself. Personal care includes things such personal hygiene, grooming, bathing, and bathing. Personal care can also refer to activities that promote better mental well-being, such as making time for hobbies or being in nature.

Private Duty Nursing: This is when a nurse provides one-on-one care to a patient, this can be provided in a facility or the client’s home.

Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST): This is an advance directive primarily used when a patient is diagnosed with a severe illness. This does not replace any other directives, instead it stays with the patient to ensure proper care and treatment.

Quality Improvement Organization (QIO): These are independent organizations, primarily not-for-profit, that aim to improve the quality of healthcare for Medicare beneficiaries. These organizations are staffed by a team of healthcare professionals who are trained to review a beneficiaries care and improve the quality of care. They also give patients the opportunity to submit complaints regarding the quality of their care, disputing payment decisions, coverage, or discharge from the hospital or services.

Range of Motion (ROM) Exercises: Exercises and movements that are used to increase flexibility and take pressure off of muscles and joints. Often these exercises are used to help patients for a temporary or long-term basis. Temporary users often use this while in physical therapy while recovering from an injury, surgery, or temporary immobility. Long-term users of ROM often need the therapy for life, often due to a permanent disability, such as a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s disease, arthritis, wheelchair users, TBI, or stroke.

Respite Care: Short-term temporary care provided by a substitute caregiver to give the primary caregiver a break. This type of care can be provided by friends, family, and professionals. Respite care can be provided both inside the home or at a facility.

Social Determinants of Health: The social and economic factors that influence an individual’s health. These factors can include education, location, and employment.

Social Worker: Also referred to as a “care coordinator.” Think of this as your mentor who will assist and guide you in the care-planning process. They will help in both finding what services you need, as well as connecting you with the providers. They are the essential liaison between home care agencies, in-home caregivers, family caregivers, and clients.

Tube Feeding: This treatment is often administered to patients who are unable to feed themselves. A tube is provided in order to deliver nutrients directly to the stomach or small intestine of the patient.

Ventilator: A piece of medical equipment that is used to deliver breath to a patient that is unable to breathe sufficiently on their own. A ventilator works by moving breathable air in and out of the lungs of a patient. 



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