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9 Home Health Care Terms Caregivers Need to Know

Whether you’re new to home health care or you’re learning more about it as your loved one’s condition changes, you may encounter some unfamiliar terms or hear words used in new or different ways. Knowing the following terms can help you better navigate the world of home health care:

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

ADLs are basic daily activities that healthy people rarely think about, but that can be very difficult for individuals who are very frail, disabled, or have chronic illness. They include bathing, dressing, using the toilet, walking, eating, and getting in and out of bed. Help from a friend or family member may not be enough if these activities become too challenging or severe for your loved one to manage.

Geriatric/Senior/Elder Care

These interchangeable terms refer to the care of aged individuals.

Home Care

This is a broad term that generally encompasses both skilled nursing care and care provided by home health aides and companions. This care can be provided wherever a person lives, including a skilled nursing facility.

Home Health Care

Home health care, on the other hand, usually refers to services that are medically related, such as nursing care, rehabilitation therapy, or services from a medical social worker.


Also called end-of-life care, hospice provides a wide array of services, from medical to social to spiritual, to the terminally ill. It is important to understand that hospice is not a place, but a program of care that can be administered either at home or in a facility.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

These activities are not as fundamental as ADLs, but are necessary nonetheless. They include shopping, paying bills, cleaning house, washing clothes, and shoveling snow.

Intermediate Care

This is a kind of temporary “bridge” between dependence and independence. It typically takes place after a hospitalization and before the individual has sufficiently recovered to resume care for him- or herself.

Intermittent Care

This care is applicable to those who need only occasional assistance, particularly when the primary caregiver has other obligations. It could range from a couple hours a day to once in a blue moon.

Respite Care/Services

This type of care offers a welcome break to family caregivers via outside assistance, and can be very helpful in preventing the care of your loved one from becoming overwhelming. Respite care may be intermittent or performed by friends or family, but it also refers to care performed by home health aides for a few hours or even a few days, so caregivers can relax and get relief from their responsibilities. Note that Medicare may pay for up to 80 hours of respite services per year, depending on certain requirements.

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