Senior Care Acronyms

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From “AAA” to “SNF,” the senior care arena is filled with acronyms that can make coordinating senior care feel like completing a New York Times crossword puzzle. To take some of the mystery out of senior care, here are some key acronyms every caregiver should know:

AAA – Area Agency on Aging: Regional offices established through the Older Americans Act to offer programs that address the needs of older people in the community. Your local AAA can be found by searching the database at

ADC – Adult Day Care: Provides older adults with activities and social opportunities in a supervised setting while also offering family caregivers some much needed respite from daily caregiving responsibilities.

ADLs – Activities of Daily Living: A term used to describe basic personal tasks such as bathing, grooming, dressing, eating, dental care, and toileting.

ALF – Assisted Living Facility: A facility that provides assistance with ADLs and IADLs (see below) when needed but does not provide the 24-hour medical care offered in nursing homes.

APS – Adult Protective Services: Local agencies that investigate and respond to possible cases of adult and elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. Find your nearest APS agency at

CCRC – Continuing Care Retirement Community: A senior living option that includes independent living, assisted living, and nursing home care all in one location or “campus.”

CMS – Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: The federal agency that administers Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. For more information, see

HHA – Home Health Agency: An agency licensed by the state and certified by Medicare and Medicaid to provide medical care in the home such as wound care, monitoring of a serious illness, and rehabilitation. Home health agencies also usually offer assistance with ADLs.

IADLs – Instrumental Activities of Daily Living: A term used to describe basic household tasks such as cleaning, shopping, laundry, cooking, paying bills, and transportation.

LTC – Long Term Care: A variety of services for people with a chronic illness or disability who need help with ADLs, IADLs, and/or medical care for an extended period of time. LTC can be provided in the home, at community agencies (such as ADCs), or in facilities.

POA – Power of Attorney: A legal term (and document) indicating that a person has designated another person to make medical and/or financial decisions for him or her under certain circumstances. POAs are usually recommended for health care as well as for finances/property.

SCU – Special Care Unit: An area within an ALF or nursing home designated for the specialized care of those with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. Oftentimes, SCUs are locked, but this should not be the only difference between the SCU and the rest of the facility.

SNF – Skilled Nursing Facility: The technical term for a nursing home, a facility that provides 24-hour medical care.

Keep in mind that these acronyms deal primarily with senior care, including choosing what kinds of services to bring into the home or making decisions about moving a loved one to a senior care facility. There are many other acronyms that deal with hospitals and the medical community that are also important to understand. These are explained in the accompanying article, “Medical Acronyms Every Senior Should Know.”



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