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Caregiver Glossary: Acronyms & Terms

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

Originally posted by AARP November18, 2019


Here are more than 75 terms that caregivers are likely to encounter:

Activities of daily living (ADLs). The actions a person must do by themselves to engage independently in everyday life, including bathing, dressing, eating, being mobile, moving from bed to a chair and using the toilet. • Acute care. Medical care given for a short time to treat a specific illness or condition. This can include doctor visits, short hospital stays or surgery. • Adult care home, also called adult family-care home (AFCH) or group home. A small assisted living residence where employees provide for disabled adults or seniors who need help with certain tasks but want to remain as independent as possible. They are an alternative to more restrictive, institutional settings, such as nursing homes, which provide 24-hour nursing care. • Adult day care. Centers that provide companionship and help to older adults who need supervision during the day. The programs can help give a break to a round-the-clock caregiver. • Advance directives. Written statements that communicate individuals’ medical preferences if they are unable to make their own health care decisions. Two types are possible: 1) A living will spelling out the types of medical treatment they want at the end of life if they are unable to speak for themselves. 2) A health care proxy, who is appointed as a health care agent — or attorney-in-fact — to make health care decisions on their behalf. That appointee becomes the individual's spokesperson on medical decisions set out in the document if the ability to communicate is lost. • Alzheimer's disease.A type of progressive mental deterioration, affecting memory and the ability to process thoughts, that is one form of dementia. • Assisted living facility (ALF). 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. • Assistive technology devices. Products that improve a person's ability to live and function independently. Low-tech assistive devices include canes and pill organizers, and high-tech items include electric wheelchairs, hearing aids and smartphones. • Cardiologist. A medical doctor who specializes in heart disorders. • Chronic disease. A condition that lasts one year or more and either requires ongoing medical attention or limits a person's ability to bathe, care for themselves, dress, eat or walk. • Cohousing. A small planned community in which single-family homes, townhouses or rental units are clustered around amenities such as a community kitchen and dining room, common areas for sitting, craft and meeting rooms, gardens and potentially adult and child day care. The goal is to design a neighborhood where people of all ages and family statuses can rely on the informal, mutual support of neighbors to help out.

Comorbidity. The presence,or coexistence, of more than one disorde rin the same person. They can occur at the same time or one after the other. Interactions between the illnesses can worsen the course of both. • Competence. In a legal sense, a person's ability to understand information, make a choice based on that information and communicate that decision in an understandable way. • Conservator. A person whom a court appoints to handle someone's affairs when that person cannot do the job. Usually, a conservator handles only finances. • Consumer-directed personal assistance program. A Medicaid program available in several states that permits chronically ill and physically disabled people to choose, train and supervise workers who help them with activities of daily living such as bathing, light housework and meal preparation so they can remain in their homes. Some relatives and friends of the recipients of the program can qualify to be paid through this program. • Continence. The ability to control bowel and bladder function. • Continuing care retirement community (CCRC). 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 is designed to meet a person's changing needs. • Co-payment. Sometimes called co-pays. A fixed amount — $20, for example — that one pays for a covered health care service after payment of the deductible. Let's say your health insurance plan's allowable cost for a doctor's office visit is $100. Your co-payment for a doctor visit is $20. If you've paid your deductible, you pay $20, usually at the time of the visit. If you haven't met your deductible, you pay $100, the full allowable amount for the visit.| • Custodial care. Non-medical care that helps individuals with bathing, dressing and other basic care that most people do themselves, such as using eye drops. It can occur in a range of environments including adult day care, assisted living centers and residential care facilities. • Delirium. Short-term confused thinking and disrupted attention usually accompanied by disordered speech and hallucinations. • Dementia. A general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia, but not all dementia comes from Alzheimer's disease. • Dermatologist. A medical doctor who specializes in skin disorders. • Discharge planner.A professional who assists patients and their families in developing a method of care for a patient following a hospital or nursing home stay. • Do not resuscitate (DNR) order. A type of advance directive in which a person states that healthcare providers should not attempt to restart the heart through cardiopulmonary resuscitation if the heart or breathing stops. • Durable power of attorney. A legal document that gives someone you choose the authority to act financially, legally and medically in your place even if you become incapacitated and unable to handle matters on your own. It remains in effect until the person who grants it either cancels it or dies.


End-of-life doula, also known as a death doula. An individual who provides non-medical comfort and support to a dying person and their family. This may include education and guidance as well as emotional, spiritual or practical care. • Endocrinologist. A medical doctor who specializes in hormonal and metabolic disorders, including diabetes. • Extended care. Short-term or temporary care in a rehabilitation hospital or nursing home with the goal of returning a patient home. • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). A federal labor law that provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid job-protected leave to accommodate some family and medical situations. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave. • Family or informal caregiver. Any relative, partner,friend or neighbor who has a significant personal relationship with and provides a broad range of assistance for an adult with a chronic or disabling condition. • Gastroenterologist. A medical doctor who specializes in digestive disorders. • Geriatric care manager, also called an aging life care professional. A specialist who assesses a person's mental, physical, environmental and financial conditions to create a care plan to assist in arranging housing, medical, social and other services. • Geriatrician. A medical doctor who has completed a residency in either family medicine or internal medicine and focuses on older adults.

Guardianship. A court-sanctioned legal relationship in which a person is given legal authority over another when that other person is unable to make safe and sound decisions regarding his or her person or property.

Health care proxy. A type of durable power of attorney in which people appoint another person to make health care decisions for them if they become unable to do so. • Hematologist. A medical doctor who specializes in blood disorders. • Home health agency. A company or nonprofit, often certified by Medicare, to provide health-related service