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Glossary

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When you are learning about Alzheimer's disease and caregiving, you may come across some unfamiliar terms. The Alzheimer's Association has developed this glossary to help you understand care- and Alzheimer's-related words and phrases.


A

Accredited facility
An accredited facility is a nursing home, assisted living center or hospital that meets very high standards of care. These standards are set by organizations such as The Joint Commission (JTO). To stay accredited, a facility must be inspected every 18 months to three years.

Learn more:
Residential Care

Activity director
An activity director plans group singing, art projects and other activities. Such activities help residents of a long-term care facility stay active, alert and sociable.

Learn more:
Residential CareActivitiesMusic and Art

Activities of daily living (ADLs)
Activities of daily living (ADLs) include eating, bathing, grooming, dressing and going to the toilet. People with dementia may need aid to perform these tasks. Questions about ADLs help decide what type of care a person needs.

Learn more:
BathingDressing and GroomingFood and Eating

Acute care (hospital care)
Acute care is a medical setting such as a hospital, intensive care unit or emergency department.

Administrator
An administrator runs a care facility, such as a nursing home.

Learn more:
Residential CareWorking with Care Providers

Adult day centers
Adult day centers offer people with Alzheimer's and other dementias the opportunity to be social and to participate in activities in a safe environment.

Learn more:
Adult Day Centers

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Advance directive
An advance directive is a legal document. It tells what kind of medical treatment a person would like when he or she cannot communicate wishes.

Learn more:
Legal DocumentsPlanning Ahead

Allowable cost
Allowable cost is the highest fee the state will pay for people on Medicaid. Other insurance plans may also set allowable costs for the services they cover.

Learn more:
Medicare  Insurance

Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Learn more:
Alzheimer's Disease10 Warning SignsTreatments

Assessment
An assessment of mental status is a test of a person's ability to think, feel and react to others. A doctor usually performs a mental status assessment.

Learn more:
Diagnosis

Assistive device
An assistive device is an aid, such as eyeglasses, a cane, a wheelchair or a hearing aid.

Assisted living
Assisted living is a residential care facility that generally provides 24-hour staff, recreational activities, meals, housekeeping, laundry and transportation. Definitions of assisted living and the specific regulations differ from state to state. Residents may choose which services they receive from the residence such as house cleaning, help with grooming or medication reminders.

Learn more:
Residential Care 

Attorney (elder law)
An elder law attorney handles general estate planning issues and counsels clients about planning for the future with alternative decision-making documents. The attorney can also assist the client in planning for possible long-term care needs, including nursing home care. Not all attorneys specialize in elder law. Your local bar association or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and your local chapter can refer you to elder law attorneys in your area.

Learn more:
Financial and Legal Planning

Audiologist
An audiologist deals with ear problems, including hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears or "head noise") and lack of balance. Audiologists provide hearing aids and other listening devices.

B

Bed-bound or bed-fast
A person who is bed-bound cannot walk or get out of bed without help from another person or a mechanical lift.

Learn more:
Late-Stage Caregiving

Behaviors
Alzheimer's disease and related dementias can cause a person to act in different and unpredictable ways. Some individuals with Alzheimer's exhibit behaviors such as agitation, repetition, hallucinations and suspicion.

Learn more:
Stages and Behaviors

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C

Caregiver
Anyone who provides care to a person with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Caregivers can be family members or friends, or paid professional caregivers. Caregivers may provide full- or part-time help to the person with Alzheimer's.

Learn more:
Daily CareGet SupportCare Options

Case management
Case management describes the care and services planned by health care workers.

Catheter
A catheter is a bendable plastic tube that goes into the bladder to help a person urinate.

Certified nursing assistant (CNA); also certified nurse's aide
A certified nursing assistant helps feed and care for disabled adults. To learn these skills, CNAs attend at least 75 hours of classes. A CNA works under a nurse's supervision and must keep taking classes to stay certified.

Learn more:
In-Home ServicesResidential Care

Chaplain
A chaplain offers spiritual counseling to people in nursing homes and hospitals.

Charge nurse
A charge nurse supervises the staff and residents of a floor or unit of a nursing home. The charge nurse's shift usually lasts eight hours. On each shift, day or night, a charge nurse should be available.

Learn more:
Residential Care

Clinical trials
Clinical trials are research studies conducted in people to determine whether treatments are safe and effective. Clinical trials are the best way for researchers to find new ways to detect, slow, treat and hopefully someday prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Learn more:
About Clinical TrialsFind a Clinical Trial

Contractures
Contractures — shortenings of the tendons and muscles — can make the knees, arms, hands or feet curl up. Physical therapy can sometimes prevent or treat this condition. But contractures following a stroke or dementia may be permanent.

Custodial care
Custodial care helps a person accomplish the activities of daily living (ADLs). Custodial care can also include preparing special diets and giving medications.

Learn more:
Residential Care

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D

Daily plan
A daily plan provides structure for the person with Alzheimer's or dementia. A plan should includeactivities that provide the person meaning and enjoyment.

Learn more:
Daily PlanActivities

Decubitus ulcers (pressure ulcers, pressure sores or bedsores)
Decubitus ulcers are skin sores caused by constant pressure.

Learn more:
Late-Stage Caregiving

Deficiencies
Deficiencies are problems an inspector notes while visiting a nursing home or other facility. The facility must correct any deficiencies. Otherwise, it may be fined and dropped from Medicare or Medicaid participation.

Dementia
Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia.

Learn more:
What Is DementiaWhat Is Alzheimer'sTypes of Dementia

Dentist
A staff or contract dentist cares for the teeth and gums of a facility's residents. Medicare does not cover dental services, but Medicaid covers some dental expenses. Regular dental care is a key to staying healthy.

Learn more:
Dental Care

Dietician
A dietician makes sure that a facility's residents eat a healthy, nutritious diet.

Learn more:
Food and Eating

Director of nursing services (DON)
The Director of Nursing oversees all nursing activities. These include scheduling and making sure staff members get continuing education. The DON is a registered nurse who has graduated from an accredited school of nursing.

Discharge
Discharge is the release of an individual from a hospital or other facility such as a nursing home. The attending doctor must give an order for the discharge.

Learn more:
Changing Care Providers

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order
A DNR order, signed by a doctor based on a patient’s wishes, instructs medical personnel to not perform life-saving CPR or other procedures to restart the heart or breathing once they have ceased. Once signed, the DNR directive must be placed in the patient's chart.   (see Advance directive).

Learn more:
Legal DocumentsPlanning Ahead

E

Elder law attorney
An elder law attorney handles general estate planning issues and counsels clients about planning for the future with alternative decision-making documents. The attorney can also assist the client in planning for possible long-term care needs, including nursing home care. Not all attorneys specialize in elder law. Your local bar association or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and your local chapter can refer you to elder law attorneys in your area.

Learn more:
Financial and Legal Planning

F

Family/designated representative or other caregiver
“Family members” can include people who are important to the resident, whether or not they are related.

Feeding tube
A feeding tube is a plastic or rubber tube to give food and water to someone who cannot eat or drink. A feeding tube can be put in through the nose (nasogastric) or the stomach wall (PEG tube).

Learn more:
Ethical and Care IssuesEnd-of-Life Decisions (PDF)

Financial Planner
A financial planner can help the client make decisions that make the most of financial resources while at the same time help negotiate the financial barriers that inevitably arise in every stage of life.

Learn more:
Financial and Legal Planning

Functional impairment
Functional impairment means being unable to dress, use the toilet, eat, bathe or walk without help.

Learn more:
Incontinence  Bathing  Dressing & Grooming  Dental Care

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A - F     G- L     M-R     S - Z

G

Geriatric care manager
A geriatric care manager will help create a plan of care that meets the needs of the older adult and will explain what resources and options are available.

Geriatric psychiatrist
A geriatric psychiatrist is trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders in older adults. These disorders include dementia, depression, anxiety and late-life schizophrenia.

Learn more:
Anxiety and AgitationDepression

Geri chair
A geri chair is a high-backed cushioned recliner with a leg and foot rest. The staff can push it on wheels, but the resident cannot move it. A geri chair is a restraint, so it can be used only on a physician's order.

Guardian/conservator
A court-appointed guardian or conservator manages a resident's money and makes health care and living decisions. Becoming a guardian or conservator requires a court order.

Learn more:
Legal Documents Financial and Legal Planning

H

Home health aides
Individuals who provide non-medical health care to people at home. Training or certification requirements vary from state-to-state, but typical services include assistance with activities of daily living, managing medications and some household tasks.

Learn more:
In-Home Health CareChoosing Care Providers Working with Care Providers

Hospice
A program that offers support for dying persons to live as fully and comfortably as they can.

Learn more:
Hospice CareLate-Stage Caregiving

I

In-home care
These care services involve professionals coming to the home to help the caregiver and the person with dementia. Services vary in type and can include companion services, personal care services and homemaker services.

Learn more:
In-Home Health Care

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs)
Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) are important daily living activities, such as cooking, shopping and managing finances.

J

The Joint Commission
The Joint Commission (JT), formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). JT is an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies health care organizations and programs in the United States. (see Accredited facility).

K

There are currently no glossary terms beginning with the letter 'K'.

L

Long-distance caregiving
Family members or friends who live in another city, state or country, and who are responsible for caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

Learn more:
Long-Distance Caregiving

Long-term care facility
A long-term care facility is a nursing home or assisted living center designed for disabled adults.

Learn more:
Residential Care

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A - F     G- L     M-R     S - Z

M

Medicaid
Medicaid is a government health program for low-income people.

Learn more:
Medicaid

Medicaid-certified
A Medicaid-certified facility can offer services to people who are on Medicaid.

Learn more:
Residential Care

Medical director
The medical director is a doctor who oversees medical care in a facility, such as a nursing home. The medical director may be the attending doctor for some residents and may offer emergency medical care for other residents.

Medicare
Medicare is a government health insurance program for people aged 65 and older and for disabled people.

Learn more:
Medicare

Medicare-certified
A Medicare-certified facility can offer services to people who are on Medicare.

Learn more:
Residential Care

Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE)
The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) is a short test to measure a person's basic skills. These skills include short-term memory, long-term memory, writing and speaking.

Learn more:
DiagnosisMedical Tests

Minimum Data Set (MDS)
The Minimum Data Set (MDS) summarizes information on the abilities of people who live in long-term care facilities. To keep their Medicare and Medicaid certification, long-term care facilities must submit their MDS data regularly.

N

Nurse
A nurse who works in a nursing home takes care of residents and oversees certified nurses' aides (CNAs) and custodial caregivers. A registered nurse (RN) is a graduate trained nurse who has been licensed by a state authority after passing qualifying examinations for registration. A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a person who has undergone training and obtained a state license to provide routine care for the sick. Some states use the term licensed vocational nurse or LVN.

Learn more:
Residential Care

Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs)
Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) are specially trained and may help oversee residents' care. In many states, doctor-supervised NPs and PAs write orders for treatment and medication.

Learn more:
Residential Care

O

Occupational therapist (OT)
An occupational therapist helps residents change their activities or environment so they can eat, dress and bathe. An OT may also help with other tasks, such as cooking, taking medication or driving. And OTs may guide family members and caregivers.

Ombudsman
An ombudsman in a long-term care facility helps residents and their families keep their rights and resolve complaints.

Learn more:
Residential CareWorking with Care Providers

Owner/operator
The owner is the individual, agency or company that owns the facility. The owner may hire an operator to direct the facility.

Learn more:
Residential Care

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P

Palliative care
Palliative care includes medical or surgical methods to ease the pain of a serious or incurable illness.

Learn more:
Hospice CareLate-Stage Caregiving

Personal care
People with Alzheimer's disease or dementia may need help with personal care activities, including grooming, bathing and dressing.

Learn more:
Incontinence  Bathing  Dressing & Grooming  Dental Care

Personal health record
A personal health record (PHR) is a regularly updated collection of important health information. If you have dementia or are caring for someone with dementia, a PHR will help you work with your care team.

Pharmacist
A pharmacist offers information about prescriptions, reviews patients' drugs, teaches caregivers and gives out medications.

Physical therapist
A physical therapist treats physical disabilities and works with residents to improve general fitness. A physical therapist may also teach a resident how to use a walker, artificial limb or wheelchair.

Physician
A physician, or doctor, helps develop a medical care plan for each resident of a long-term care facility. Physicians make medical decisions, such as what medications residents take. They visit nursing home residents. They may also meet with a resident's family to discuss medical conditions or treatments.

Learn more:
Working with the Doctor

Power of attorney
A power of attorney is a legal form that names someone to act as your substitute.

Learn more:
Legal DocumentsPlanning Ahead

Psychologist
A psychologist detects and treats emotional problems. Personality and intelligence testing can help a psychologist diagnose these problems. Treatments include individual, family, and group therapy sessions. Psychologists in long-term care facilities also teach staff members how to interact with residents.

Q

Quality indicators
Quality indicators describe the care in a long-term facility. For example, one quality indicator is the percent of residents whose need for help with daily activities has increased. The government's Nursing Home Compare website uses quality indicators to score every nursing home in the United States.

Learn more:
Residential Care

R

Recreational therapist
A recreational therapist helps residents enjoy activities. For example, the recreational therapist might offer special tools, such as large-print songsheets, to encourage participation.

Learn more:
Residential CareActivitiesMusic and Art

Resident
A resident is someone who lives in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home.

Learn more:
Residential Care

Respite care
Respite care provides temporary relief from caregiving tasks. Such care could include in-home assistance, a short nursing home stay or adult day care.

Learn more:
Respite CareCare Team Calendar

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A - F     G- L     M-R     S - Z

S

Social worker
A social worker offers residents and their families therapy, support services and planning for discharge. Social workers may also teach and counsel staff members.

Speech-language pathologist
A speech-language pathologist tests, diagnoses and treats people with speech and swallowing problems.

Stages
A framework for the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Learn more:
StagesEarly-Stage CaregivingMiddle-Stage CaregivingLate-Stage Caregiving

Staff-resident ratio
The staff-resident ratio compares the number of staff members to the number of residents they care for.

Learn more:
Residential Care

Support groups
A group of Alzheimer's caregivers who connect to share experiences, provide support and give advice. Support groups can meet face-to-face with a support group leader or meet online.

Learn more:
Support GroupsOnline Community

Survey
The state health department takes an unannounced survey of each nursing home about once a year. This survey helps make sure a facility is giving good care. A nursing home must participate to keep its license. Each facility has to post its latest survey results. These required surveys differ from the surveys of The Joint Commission (JT) that a nursing home may request (see Accredited facility).

Learn more:
Residential Care

T

There are currently no glossary terms beginning with the letter 'T'.

U

There are currently no glossary terms beginning with the letter 'U'.

V

There are currently no glossary terms beginning with the letter 'V'.

W

Wandering
Anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering. A person with Alzheimer's or dementia may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented and lost, even in familiar places.

Learn more:
Wandering and Getting LostHome Safety

X

There are currently no glossary terms beginning with the letter 'X'.

Y

Younger-onset
Younger-onset (also known as early-onset) Alzheimer's affects people younger than age 65. Many people with early-onset are in their 40s and 50s. They have families, careers or are even caregivers themselves when Alzheimer's disease strikes.

Learn more:
Younger-Onset Alzheimer's

Z

There are currently no glossary terms beginning with the letter 'Z'.

 

A - F     G- L     M-R     S - Z

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