Definitions for Caregiving Terms


Definitions for Caregiving Terms


No one expects you to understand all the caregiver terminology associated with medical, financial, and legal planning when you begin caring for someone. However, it can certainly feel that way when you begin engaging with these new and unfamiliar support systems. 

Below we’ve provided a glossary of caregiving definitions you are likely to encounter related to your loved one’s medical, financial, and legal needs. These definitions will help guide you as you navigate your role as a caregiver.

But first, let’s start with the basics and define the different types of caregivers.

Types of Caregivers Defined

Adult daycare centers: Adult daycare centers provide health and social programming for older adults and often include transportation, field trips, and meals. These centers provide respite for family caregivers.

Caregiver: A caregiver is someone who looks after a person who is sick, elderly, or disabled. They can be a professional caregiver who is paid or a family caregiver.

Family caregiver: A family caregiver cares for a family member or friend that cannot care for themself. This can include helping with hygiene, feeding, healthcare, and more.

Home health aides/caregivers: Home health caregivers can range in skill level from untrained companions, to homemakers, to skilled nurses. Many of these caregivers receive specialized training and complete certification programs to be a Home Health Aide or Certified Nursing Assistant.

Independent caregivers: An independent caregiver is typically a home care professional that doesn’t work for an agency. The independent caregiver is employed directly by the family without any intermediary.

Senior living caregivers: Senior living is an umbrella term that captures a number of different housing situations, including independent living communities, assisted living facilities, and memory care facilities. In assisted living and memory care facilities caregivers are incredibly important, doing anything and everything from personal care to administering medications.

To learn more about the different types of caregivers, including how caregivers define what they do, read What is a Caregiver?

Financial and Legal Definitions for Caregivers

Advance directives: Legal documents that specify a person’s preferences for medical treatment and care if they are no longer able to communicate their wishes. See also: DNR, health care proxy and living will.

Conservator: A court-appointed guardian responsible for handling a person’s finances when they are deemed unable to do so themselves.

Copayment (copay): A fixed amount of money a person pays for covered health care services/expenses after their deductible has been met.

Deductible: The amount paid for covered health care services/expenses before insurance begins to pay.

Do not resuscitate (DNR): An order, typically written by a physician, that indicates a person does not wish to receive CPR, or any other life-saving treatments, if the heart or breathing stops.

Durable power of attorney: A legal document that gives one or more people (“agents”) the power to make legal, medical, or financial decisions on another person’s behalf. For caregivers, this can be better than a power of attorney because it is honored even if the person who granted the power is no longer able to make their own decisions. See also: Health care proxy.

Estate planning: The process of completing legal documentation for the management and distribution of a person’s assets after their death.

Health care proxy: Someone designated to make medical decisions on another person’s behalf. Also called durable power of attorney for health care or health care power of attorney.

Life insurance: A contract between an insurer and a policyholder where the insurer will pay a designated beneficiary a lump-sum upon the death of the policyholder in exchange for a premium.

Living will: A legal document that specifies a person's preferences regarding life-saving medical treatments if they are no longer able to communicate their wishes. Typically created when a person has a terminal disease/illness.

Long-term care insurance: A private insurance policy that can be used to pay for long-term care services, including home modification and in-home care, not covered by health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Medicaid: A federal and state government assistance program (U.S.) that covers some medical and long-term care costs, including nursing home care and personal care services, for qualifying, low-income individuals. Eligibility and distribution of benefits varies by state. 

Medicare: A federal health insurance program (U.S.) available to several qualifying groups, including people 65 and older.

Power of attorney (POA): A legal document that gives one or more people (“agents”) the power to make decisions on another person’s behalf, usually related to financial matters.

Pre-existing condition: An illness or injury that a person has been living with prior to receiving coverage and benefits under a new health insurance plan.

Preferred provider organization (PPO): An agreement where a network of medical and healthcare providers agree to provide discounts on services to members of a specific health plan.

Supplemental security income (SSI): A federal assistance program that provides monthly cash payments to people with limited income and resources, including people 65 and older and those who are either disabled or blind.

Will: A legal document that specifies a person’s wishes for the management and distribution of their assets after death.

To learn more about federally-funded health insurance options in the U.S., read What’s the Difference between Medicare and Medicaid?

Healthcare and Social Services Definitions for Caregivers

Acute care: Medical care and/or treatment that addresses short-term needs. Most commonly provided during hospital stays and doctor visits.

Assistive technology: Products and services that support functional capabilities and aim to improve daily living for elderly and disabled individuals.

Area Agency on Aging: A nationwide network of state and local programs that help keep seniors living independently in their homes by providing information and access to resources for older adults and their caregivers.

Care plan: A comprehensive and customized treatment plan developed by clinicians and care staff that adapts to reflect a patient’s ongoing preferences and evolving care needs. 

Chronic disease/illness: A condition that is lifelong or has lasting effects on the person affected. 

Comorbidity: The presence of more than one health condition in the same person.

Custodial care: Non-medical care, like bathing and household chores, that helps a person execute their activities of daily living.

Discharge planner: Professionals in healthcare settings who are responsible for assessing patient needs, setting goals with patients and caregivers, and connecting them to local resources after treatment or a hospital stay.

Durable medical equipment (DME): Equipment, like wheelchairs and canes, that improve a person’s quality of life.

End-of-life doula: Also called death doulas. A non-medical professional who supports the dying and their families by offering guidance on the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the end-of-life experience.

Extended care: Skilled nursing and/or rehabilitation services provided for a short period of time.

Home- and community-based care/services (HCBS): Umbrella term for all services and programs offered to individuals aging in place who need help with activities of daily living.

Inpatient care: Refers to medical care and services that require overnight or extended stays.

Geriatrician: A primary care doctor who specializes in the treatment and advanced care needs of individuals aged 65 and older.

Gerontologist: Professionals who specialize in the physical, social, and psychological components of aging.

Hospice: A type of palliative care provided specifically at the end of life that focuses on managing a person’s quality of life in the time they have left. Includes medical care, pain/symptom management, and support for the dying and their families.

Outpatient care: Refers to medical care and services that are completed within a day.

Palliative care: Specialized medical care that focuses on pain relief and symptom management in order to improve the quality of life for people living with a serious illness. Can be offered alongside curative treatments.

Primary care: The first point of entry in a person’s healthcare journey. Professionals in these settings, which typically include primary care physicians and nurse practitioners, are responsible for addressing ongoing, day-to-day healthcare needs and making referrals to other specialists within the healthcare system.

Rehabilitation: The process of restoring physical or cognitive function after an acute or chronic injury or illness.

Respite care: Services and care provided in the home or at community centers that offer programming and companionship for child and adults and provide short breaks for family caregivers.

Skilled nursing: Medically necessary care, like physical therapy or wound care, that is executed by a trained or licensed professional.

Social worker: Professionals whose goal is to help improve a person’s welfare by identifying their needs and connecting them to resources. Social workers can offer a wide range of support to family caregivers and their loved ones.

Terminal disease/illness: A condition, often progressive in nature, that cannot be cured. Physical, mental, and existential pain can be addressed with palliative intervention.

For more doctor definitions, read Types of Doctors and What They Do

Senior Living and Home Care Definitions for Caregivers

Activities of daily living (ADL): Basic activities a person performs daily to live independently, including dressing, bathing, eating, moving, and toileting.

Adult care home: Assisted living provided in a small, residential setting. Also called adult family-care homes or group homes.

Aging in place: The ability for an individual to remain in their home safely and independently.

Assisted living community/facility: Also called long-term care communities/facilities. Licensed housing that provides room and board for older adults and individuals with disabilities. Services include housekeeping, transportation, access to medical care, and assistance with ADLs from trained staff.

Continuing care retirement community (CCRC): A residential community that includes independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care on a single campus. This type of housing can adapt to and address a person’s changing needs as they age.

Home health agency: An organization that provides nursing and therapeutic services in a person’s home.

Independent living community/facility: Licensed housing that provides room and board for older adults who can live independently but want access to hospitality services and medical assistance should they need it.

Long-term care: Catch-all term for the variety of medical and non-medical care services offered to older adults and individuals with disabilities. These services are provided in a person’s home in a facility, or at a community center.

Memory care: Designated housing that provides more structure, safety, and support for those living with Alzheimer's or dementia. Staff are trained to address the unique needs of these individuals as well as support them with their ADLs.

Senior center: A community center that offers programming, socialization, and transportation for older adults.

Skilled nursing facility: Also called a nursing home. Acute or extended care provided to someone recovering from an illness or injury. Skilled nursing facilities provide 24-hour, physician-advised rehabilitative care to residents.

Like this article? Share on social