Common Senior Housing Terms and Definitions

Depending on age, health and financial status, a senior’s need for assistance with health care and daily tasks can vary widely. Fortunately, there are many different senior housing alternatives designed to address different levels of need. The following glossary is intended to acquaint you with some commonly used senior housing terms, and to help you understand some of the senior housing and care choices available to you.

Accessory Apartment

A separate living unit inside a single-family home. This is a popular senior housing option for people who want to stay in their homes, and a potential source of care giving between an older person and a friend, neighbor or relative. It provides the convenience of physical closeness while maintaining privacy. It also provides additional income for the landlord and affordable rent for the tenant.


A seal of approval given by a governing body to a senior housing or service provider. To be accredited, the provider must meet requirements set by the accredit ting body and must undergo a thorough evaluation to ensure that it meets certain standards of quality. Accrediting organizations are not government agencies or regulatory bodies. Examples of some accreditation bodies for the senior housing and senior care industry include CCAC (Continuing Care Accreditation Commission), CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) and JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations).

Activities of Daily Living (ADL)

Everyday activities such as bathing, grooming, eating, using the toilet, and getting dressed.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

A law passed by Congress in 1990, which established a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability. The law requires equal access to public buildings and places of employment for people with disabilities. Subsequent amendments have extended the access requirement to telecommunications, information on the Internet, and some other services.

Adult Day Care

Daily structured programs in a community setting with activities as well as health-related and rehabilitation services for seniors who are physically or emotionally disabled and need a protective environment. This care is provided during the day, and the senior receiving the care returns home in the evening.

Aging in Place

A concept that allows a senior to remain in his or her living environment, despite the physical and/or mental decline that may occur during the aging process.

Assisted Living

Generally, these are state-licensed programs offered at senior residential communities. Services typically include meals, laundry, housekeeping, medication reminders, and assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs). The range of services, including medical, varies from facility to facility. Assisted Living is generally regarded as a step or two below skilled nursing in its level of care. Approximately 90 percent of the country’s Assisted Living services are paid for with private funds, although some states have adopted Medicaid waiver programs.

The exact definition of Assisted Living varies from state to state, and a few states do not license Assisted Living facilities. Assisted Living may also be referred to as Personal Care, Board and Care, Residential Care, or Boarding Home, although some states differentiate between their definition of “Assisted Living” and these other terms. In Minnesota, facilities offering Assisted Living services are registered as “Housing with Services” facilities. Assisted Living facilities range in size from small homes housing 6-12 people to large, full-service facilities.

Care Center

See Nursing Home.

Catered Living

See Independent Living (may be also referred to as Supportive Housing).

Congregate Housing

See Independent Living (may be also referred to as Supportive Housing).

Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)

These are housing communities planned and operated to provide a continuum of housing options and services for seniors. They include, but not limited to, Independent Living, Congregate Housing, Assisted Living, and Skilled Nursing care. A CCRC resident contract often involves either an entry fee or a buy-in fee in addition to the monthly service charges, which may change according to the level of medical services required. Entry fees may be partially or fully refundable. The fee is used primarily as a method of privately financing the development of the project and as payment for future health care. CCRCs are typically licensed by the state. See also Life Care Community.

Convalescent Home

See Nursing Home.

ECHO (Elder Cottage Housing Opportunities)

A small, temporary home installed on the same site as a single-family residence, usually that of an adult child or other relative. ECHO units allow seniors to remain close to family members and receive the support they need while retaining a great deal of independence.

Home Health Care

Medical and nursing services are provided in a person’s home by a licensed provider.

Hospice Care

Care and comfort provided to those with a terminal illness and their families. It may include medical, counseling, and social services. Most hospice care is furnished in-home, while specialized hospices and some hospitals also provide such care.

Independent Living

A multi-unit senior housing development that may provide supportive services such as meals, housekeeping, social activities, and transportation. This alternative is available as part of Congregate Housing, Supportive Housing, and Retirement Communities. Independent Living encourages people to socialize by providing meals in a central dining area and through scheduled social programs. This term may also be used to describe housing with few or no services such as Senior Apartment.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

Day-to-day tasks such as preparing meals, shopping, managing money, taking medication, and housekeeping.

Life Care Community

A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), which offers an insurance type of contract and provides all levels of care. It often includes payment for acute care and physician’s visits. Little or no change is made in the monthly fee, regardless of the level of medical care required by the resident, except for cost-of-living increases.

Long-Term Care

See Nursing Home.

Long Term Care Insurance

People buy Long Term Care Insurance to cover the costs of long-term care. However, coverage varies widely. We recommend that you read the shopping tips provided by the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.

Long Term Care Options Counseling (LTCOC) Transitional Consultation for Registered Housing with Services

During the 2011 Special Session of the Minnesota Legislature, a new initiative was adopted that requires the Senior LinkAge Line® and Lead Agencies (counties, Tribes) to expand access to Long-term Care Consultation to those entering a Registered Housing with Service setting. Read the legislative language, (scroll to line 177.3) Starting October 1, 2011 all people interested in entering a registered housing with services setting, such as assisted living, must now be offered a long-term care consultation before signing a lease.


Medicare is a U.S. government program of hospitalization insurance and voluntary medical insurance for persons aged 65 and over. It also covers certain disabled persons under 65

Medical Assistance

Medicaid is a health care program that is jointly funded by the state and federal governments. It is managed by the states. People served by Medicaid are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, including low-income adults, their children, and people with certain disabilities.

Nursing Home

A 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 illnesses. The availability of regular medical supervision and rehabilitation therapy is required, and nursing homes are eligible to participate in the Medicaid program. This alternative may be referred to as a Nursing Facility, Care Center, or Convalescent Home.

Rehab Care

See Transitional Care Unit.

Residential Care

See Assisted Living.

Respite Care

Temporary relief for caregivers, ranging from several hours to days. This may be provided in-home or in a residential care setting such as an assisted living facility or nursing home.

Senior Apartment

Age-restricted multi-unit housing with self-contained living units for older adults who are able to care for themselves. Usually no additional services such as meals or transportation are provided.

Short-Term Care

See Transitional Care Unit.

Transitional Care Unit (TCU)

A Transitional Care Unit (TCU) is a bridge between the hospital and home. It is where patients receive skilled nursing care and the therapies they need to regain their strength and abilities after hospitalization for hip or knee replacement, a cardiac event, stroke, and a variety of other conditions. Transitional care is also known as short-term rehab. The Transitional Care Center at Episcopal Church Home is a Medicare/Medicaid-certified TCU.