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Home Care Glossary: Essential Terms for Caregivers and Clients

This glossary provides definitions for some of the most common terms used in home care plans and caregiving. Understanding these terms can empower you to participate actively in your care or the care of a loved one.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Basic definition:Essential tasks for self-care, including bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, transferring (moving around), and continence (managing bladder and bowel control).

ADLs are further categorized into:

  • Basic ADLs (BADLs):Essential for survival, including eating, toileting, and bathing.
  • Instrumental ADLs (IADLs):Tasks that contribute to independent living but are not essential, encompassing tasks like managing finances, cooking, and transportation.

Considerations in care plans:Caregivers assess a client’s ability to perform ADLs independently, partially, or not at all. This helps determine the level of assistance needed and tailor the care plan accordingly.

Assistive Devices

Definition:Tools and equipment that help individuals with ADLs or other activities, such as walkers, grab bars, shower chairs, dressing aids, or medication organizers.

Types of assistive devices:

  • Mobility aids:Walkers, canes, wheelchairs, or scooters to improve mobility and prevent falls.
  • Bathroom safety aids:Grab bars, shower chairs, raised toilet seats, to enhance safety in the bathroom.
  • Dressing aids:Long-handled shoehorn, sock aids, or dressing sticks to facilitate dressing independently.
  • Adaptive eating utensils:Weighted utensils, built-up handles, or specialized plates to assist with eating.
  • Communication aids:Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices for individuals with speech limitations.

Importance in care plans:Care plans may specify the recommended assistive devices to improve a client’s independence and safety.


Definition:A trained or certified professional who provides assistance with daily living activities, companionship, and emotional support in a client’s home.

Types of caregivers:

  • Home Health Aide (HHA):Provides assistance with ADLs, personal care, and light housekeeping.
  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA):Offers assistance with ADLs, personal care, and may perform some basic medical tasks under the supervision of a nurse.
  • Personal Care Aide:Focuses on non-medical companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, and emotional support.
  • Skilled Nurse:A licensed professional providing medical care like wound care, medication administration, and injections.

Qualifications and training:Caregivers may require specific certifications or training depending on the level of care needed.

Care Plan

Definition:A personalized document outlining the specific needs and preferences of a client, including goals for care, daily routines, medication schedule, safety protocols, and preferred communication methods with family and healthcare providers.

Components of a care plan:

  • Client assessment:Information on the client’s medical history, current health status, functional abilities, cognitive level, and social needs.
  • Goals of care:Specific objectives for the client’s care plan, focusing on maintaining independence, improving health outcomes, or promoting comfort and well-being.
  • Interventions:Specific actions the caregiver will take to assist the client in achieving their care goals.
  • Documentation:Ongoing progress notes recording observations, changes in client’s condition, and adjustments made to the care plan.

Importance of care plans:Care plans ensure continuity of care, clear communication between caregivers and healthcare providers, and a client-centered approach to home care.

Case Manager

Definition:A healthcare professional responsible for overseeing a client’s care plan, coordinating services, and ensuring communication between caregivers, family members, and healthcare providers.

Responsibilities of a case manager:

  • Assessing the client’s needs and developing a comprehensive care plan.
  • Coordinating with different healthcare providers involved in the client’s care, such as doctors, therapists, and social workers.
  • Monitoring the client’s progress and making adjustments to the care plan as needed.
  • Educating and supporting family members about the client’s care.
  • Advocating for the client’s best interests and ensuring their needs are met.

Benefits of a case manager:Provides a single point of contact for care coordination, promotes a holistic approach to care, and ensures all involved parties are working together for the client’s well-being.


Definition:The individual receiving home care services.

Home care can serve a broad range of clients with varying needs, including:

  • Seniors:Individuals needing assistance with ADLs due to aging or chronic conditions.
  • Adults with disabilities:Individuals requiring support due to physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities.
  • Individuals recovering from surgery or illness:Clients needing temporary assistance following a medical procedure or hospitalization.
  • Terminally ill clients:Individuals receiving palliative or hospice care at home in their final stages of life.

Companionship Care

Definition:Non-medical assistance with social interaction, hobbies, and emotional well-being to prevent loneliness and isolation.

Activities of companionship care:

  • Engaging in conversation and providing emotional support.
  • Participating in hobbies and leisure activities based on the client’s interests.
  • Offering companionship during outings or appointments.
  • Assisting with social events and facilitating connections with family and friends.

Benefits of companionship care:Reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation, promotes mental stimulation, and enhances overall well-being.

Gait Training

Definition:Exercises and techniques designed to improve a client’s balance, mobility, and walking ability.

Goals of gait training:

  • Increase strength and flexibility in the legs and core.
  • Improve coordination and balance.
  • Enhance walking endurance and confidence.
  • Reduce the risk of falls.

Types of gait training:

  • Balance exercises:Activities to improve postural stability and prevent falls.
  • Strengthening exercises:Exercises targeting leg muscles to enhance gait stability.
  • Gait retraining:Techniques to improve walking patterns and efficiency.

Home Health Aide

Definition:A trained caregiver who provides assistance with ADLs, personal care, and light housekeeping.

Responsibilities of a home health aide:

  • Assisting with bathing, dressing, toileting, and other personal care tasks.
  • Helping with transferring and ambulation (moving around).
  • Preparing meals and light housekeeping tasks.
  • Monitoring vital signs and reporting any changes to the case manager.
  • Providing companionship and emotional support.

Qualifications of a home health aide:May require certification through a state-approved training program.

Hospice Care

Definition:Care focused on comfort and emotional support for terminally ill clients and their families in their final months.

Services provided by hospice:

  • Pain and symptom management:Medications and therapies to manage pain and other symptoms associated with a terminal illness.
  • Emotional and spiritual support:Counseling and spiritual care for clients and families coping with end-of-life issues.
  • Volunteer companionship:Providing companionship and emotional support to clients.
  • Respite care:Offering temporary relief to family caregivers.

Benefits of hospice care:Allows terminally ill clients to remain at home comfortably, surrounded by loved ones, while receiving expert care focused on symptom management and emotional support.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

Definition:Tasks that contribute to independent living but are not essential for basic survival, including meal preparation, housework, managing finances, transportation, and medication management.

Examples of IADLs:

  • Meal preparation:Planning, shopping for, cooking, and cleaning up after meals.
  • Housework:Performing tasks like laundry, vacuuming, and dusting.
  • Managing finances:Paying bills, balancing a checkbook, and budgeting.
  • Transportation:Arranging and utilizing transportation for appointments or errands.
  • Medication management:Taking medications correctly, refilling prescriptions, and managing medication schedules.

Importance in care plans:Assessing a client’s ability to perform IADLs helps determine the level of assistance needed to maintain independence and manage their household.

Medication Management

Definition:Assisting clients with taking their medications correctly, including reminding them of dosages, monitoring side effects, and ensuring medication adherence.

Importance of medication management:Ensuring clients take medications correctly is crucial for managing chronic conditions, preventing complications, and promoting overall health.

Responsibilities of caregivers in medication management:

  • Reminding clients to take their medications at the prescribed times and dosages.
  • Assisting clients with opening medication containers or administering medications if needed.
  • Monitoring for side effects and reporting them to the healthcare provider.
  • Maintaining a medication log to track adherence.

Palliative Care

Definition:Medical care focused on relieving pain and managing symptoms of a serious illness, improving a client’s quality of life.

Differences between palliative and hospice care:

  • Palliative care can be provided at any stage of a serious illness
  • Hospice care is typically reserved for terminally ill clients with a life expectancy of six months or less.

Services provided by palliative care:

  • Pain and symptom management, similar to hospice.
  • Emotional and spiritual support for clients and families.
  • Coordination with other healthcare providers involved in the client’s care.
  • Communication and education about treatment options and prognosis.

Benefits of palliative care:Improves a client’s quality of life by managing symptoms and promoting comfort, allowing them to focus on living life to the fullest.

Personal Care

Definition:Assistance with hygiene tasks like bathing, dressing, toileting, and grooming.

Activities of personal care:

  • Bathing and showering assistance.
  • Dressing and undressing assistance.
  • Toileting assistance, including incontinence care.
  • Oral hygiene care, such as brushing teeth.
  • Grooming assistance, including shaving or applying makeup.

Importance of personal care:Maintaining personal hygiene is essential for comfort, dignity, and preventing skin breakdown or infections.

Physical Therapy

Definition:Rehabilitation services provided by a licensed therapist to improve a client’s mobility, strength, and functional abilities.

Benefits of physical therapy in home care:

  • Enhance a client’s ability to perform ADLs and IADLs independently.
  • Improve balance and coordination to prevent falls.
  • Reduce pain and stiffness associated with chronic conditions.
  • Increase overall strength and endurance.

Types of physical therapy in home care:

  • Exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and balance.
  • Gait training to improve walking ability.
  • Range-of-motion exercises to maintain joint mobility.
  • Instruction on using assistive devices safely and effectively.

Power of Attorney

Definition:A legal document authorizing another person to make healthcare decisions on behalf of a client if they become incapacitated.

Importance in care plans:Having a power of attorney in place ensures that someone the client trusts can make healthcare decisions for them if they are unable to do so themselves. This can be especially important when discussing end-of-life care preferences.

Respite Care

Definition:Short-term care provided to give family caregivers a temporary break from their caregiving responsibilities.

Types of respite care:

  • In-home respite care: A caregiver provides temporary assistance in the client’s home, allowing the family caregiver a break.
  • Adult daycare: The client spends the day in a facility receiving care and socialization, while the family caregiver has a break.
  • Short-term stay in a nursing home: The client stays in a nursing home for a short period, allowing the family caregiver time to rest or travel.

Benefits of respite care:Provides much-needed relief for family caregivers, preventing burnout and promoting their well-being.

Skilled Nursing Care

Definition:Medical care provided by a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN), including wound care, medication administration, and injections.

Services provided by skilled nurses:

  • Wound care: Cleaning and dressing wounds to promote healing and prevent infection.
  • Medication administration: Administering medications through various routes (oral, injection, intravenous).
  • Catheter care: Inserting, managing, and monitoring catheters.
  • Monitoring vital signs: Tracking temperature, pulse, respiration, and blood pressure.
  • Collaboration with other healthcare providers to ensure coordinated care.

When skilled nursing care may be needed:For clients with complex medical conditions requiring advanced medical care that cannot be performed by a home health aide or personal care aide.


Definition:Assisting a client with moving safely from one position to another, such as from bed to chair or toilet.

Types of transfers:

  • Independent transfer: The client can transfer with minimal or no assistance.
  • Assisted transfer: The caregiver provides some physical support to help the client transfer safely.
  • Dependent transfer: The caregiver provides full support to move the client.

Importance of safe transferring:Reduces the risk of falls and injuries for clients with limited mobility.

Vital Signs

Definition:Body measurements like temperature, pulse, respiration, and blood pressure used to assess a client’s overall health status.

Importance of monitoring vital signs:Changes in vital signs can indicate potential health problems and allow for early intervention.

Disclaimer: This glossary was compiled by the staff at Impactful Home Care, a leading home care agency in Philadelphia, with the intention of empowering families and caregivers with essential knowledge for navigating home care. The information contained in this glossary is intended for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with a qualified professional for any legal or medical questions you may have.

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