Deciding where to live as you age can be challenging. The jargon of senior housing doesn’t make it much easier. We’re here to help with a quick-reference list of common terms.


A straightforward term describing living situations for seniors who are still able to live on their own and manage the necessities and social aspects of their lives. In some communities, subsidized independent living apartments are available for low-income seniors.


Often used to describe strategies for designing new homes or modifying existing ones to accommodate aging seniors. A growing number of builders and contractors specialize in Aging in Place design and modification. The term can also refer to staying in a facility that takes a person who is high-functioning all the way through end-of-life.


Usually defined as a “one-campus” system of independent housing, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. Residents shift easily from one type of housing to another as their needs change, preventing disruptive moves. A spouse who is healthy enough to live independently can typically stay near a husband or wife in an on-campus apartment.


A term for seniors-only apartments with amenities such as meals, laundry, housekeeping, transportation, carports, storage and activities. Amenities are optional in some retirement communities but included in rent at others. Retirement communities provide less care than assisted living facilities; residents need to be able to live unsupervised. Most offer annual leases with early-out clauses for medical situations.


Designed for both independent seniors and those needing assistance, this is a community-focused “city-in-miniature.” Residents live within walking distance of restaurants, yoga studios, coffee shops, art galleries, and more. It also has a multi-generational component since the area attracts people of all ages to enjoy its vibrant community.


A broad category that describes options between independent living and skilled long-term care. In many facilities, residents live in private apartments or rooms but receive care tailored to their level of ability. Services may be as simple as meals and cleaning, but could also include more extensive care, such as dressing, bathing, monitoring medications and transportation for appointments and shopping. Most assisted living facilities serve residents through hospice and end of life. Depending on the services they provide, assisted living facilities are not necessarily licensed in Michigan. Medicare does not provide funds for assisted living.


These are state licensing definitions for facilities that care for seniors who can no longer live independently but do not need continuous medical support. In addition to on-site supervision, seniors at these facilities get help with bathing, grooming, dressing, eating, walking, toileting and medications. (The state defines smaller operations, often based in private homes and residential neighborhoods, as adult foster care. Facilities with more than 20 residents are licensed as homes for the aged.) Some seniors prefer the cozy atmosphere of smaller residential homes, while others find more stimulation at larger facilities that offer a range of activities. Medicaid is accepted at some of these homes.


Describes facilities for people with mental or physical impairment and extensive medical needs. Skilled nursing facilities, commonly called nursing homes, have in-house activities for stimulation and rehab services for short-term stays. They are also the most expensive option. According to federal statistics, Medicaid pays for seven out of every 10 nursing home patients. So unless a senior is wealthy or has good long-term care insurance, the number of Medicaid beds in a nursing home may be important selection criteria.


A service that allows seniors to drop in at a residential care facility for specific periods during the day, especially helpful for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. The senior at adult daycare gets assistance and social interaction while the caregiver is able to go to work or run errands, or just take a break. When caregivers need more time, they may use overnight respite at certain residential facilities. Such short-term stays help a senior become familiar with the staff and environment of a facility that may eventually become their full-time residence.


General term for 24-hour medical and personal care. Most commonly, long-term care is provided in a skilled nursing facility.


General terms for those individuals who are going to a nursing home for a short-term stay while receiving some type of therapy.

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