Glossary of Retirement Living

Definitions of words & phrases related to retirement communities

Confused by all the jargon? Many people navigating the senior care and retirement real estate industries find the terms confusing. A number of factors create confusion in this very large industry.

  • Regional differences. In Canada alone, there are differences across provinces; in North America and in other parts of the world, there are variations referring to the same thing or terms that mean entirely different things in different parts of the world separate from Canada.
  • Confusion caused by the industry. For example, marketers sometimes choose terms that people like to hear, and try to create their own definitions for common phrases (an example is "active lifestyle"). Different people do not communicate with each other for various reasons, and do not use the same phrases to mean the same things.

With that in mind, we've prepared the glossary below to help you as you search. We offer an overview of how each is defined, along with helpful notes about potential for confusion, as well as other information you may find helpful. 

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55 plus (also called 55 and over, among other variants, all related to active adult lifestyle). These are communities targeted at those who have emptied the nest and wish to live in a community where there are few or no teenagers and other children. The legality of this discrimination may seem questionable, but in court and in the laws this has been upheld. In British Columbia, the Strata Property Act allows corporations to "[restrict] the age of persons who may reside in a strata lot." In Ontario, an age restricted community was contested by a 48 year old, and the Human Rights Tribunal rejected the case as non-substantive. Learn more about 55 plus homes

Accredited Senior Agent (ASA). A designation available only to real estate agents who have passed the Master ASA. Coursework includes study in Canadian tax laws, estate planning and wills, as well as a focus on the needs of senior clients. Agents are not only well-versed in laws but offer rich experience in working with seniors and their families, to help them downsize and move forward into the next phase of their lives. 

Activities of daily living (also called tasks of daily living.)  This phrase used often in the care industry refers to everyday activities, such as: bathing or showering, eating, dressing, toileting and transferring (for example, getting out of bed). When someone is unable to carry out such tasks independently, they may require assistance ranging from assistive devices to full time personal care, depending on the severity of their needs.

Active adult lifestyle (also called active adult living). Term applied to a variety of age-restricted communities, usually intended for people who are at least 40 years or older and who have no children in the home. These range in appearance from very typical looking subdivisions to condominium complexes to bungalow communities to resort-style communities that are often gated. Aside from the age restriction, these are appealing for the security offered (especially for those who may like to travel often) and the lifestyle implied, which may include onsite golfing, proximity to beachfront, or a variety of other amenities.

ADRD (acronym for Alzheimer’s Disease or Related Disorders). The use of this acronym indicates the lack of certainty health professionals have in making an Alzheimer's diagnosis. Since the disease is similar to other signs of aging (fading memory, anger, disorientation, etc.) the more inclusive notion of ADRD is in fact, a more accurate description in some cases.

Adult day programs (also called adult day support programs or adult day care programs and other variations). Most often publicly-funded (but also privately run), these programs provide supervised activities in a group setting, targeted at dependent adults, especially those with physical or cognitive challenges – for example, Alzheimer's Disease.

Alberta Health Services (AHS). The provincial health system in the province of Alberta delivers medical care throughout the province, including hospitals and clinics as well as continuing care facilities and others. It is, in fact, the largest single health authority in Canada and is the largest employer in the province of Alberta.

Alzheimer's Disease. A progressive mental disease resulting in memory loss, disorientation and other negative symptoms. The disease is named for the German psychiatrist who first described it, Alois Alzheimer. Read more about Alzheimer's Disease.

Anosognosia. A lack of awareness that one is impaired. This may seem like denial but in fact has a pathological basis: it can result from damage to the part of the brain that affects perception of one's own illness. While particularly common in stroke patients, affecting up to 75% of stroke sufferers, anosognosia also affects people with traumatic brain injury and those with Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia. It can lead to patients not taking medication, as well as other problems.

Ashby Memory Method (AMM). A drug free treatment program for Alzheimer's sufferers that uses brain exercises to manage symptoms like memory loss. The method was developed in Canada by Dr. Mira Ashby, and has become a model for many other programs around the world. Find more in our fuller description of the Ashby Memory Method.

Assisted living (also called assistive living or supportive living in Alberta). A type of seniors' facility where people live in a group environment and have access to care and help with activities of daily living, such as transferring, bathing, etc.

Assistive living devices. An increasing collection of consumer products that help seniors retain some independence. Products number in the thousands but include everything from shower seats to stair lifts.

Behavioral Support Training Program (BSTP). This is a training program for dementia support workers in Ontario, following from the (see below) Dementia Care Training Program (DCTP).

British Columbia Senior Living Association (BCSLA). An organization that represents owners and operators of independent living and assisted living retirement communities in the province of BC.  It offers Seals of Approval to member communities, based on criteria in the areas of safety measures, infection control, staff training, resident services and assisted living supports.

BC Health. The Ministry of Health in the province of British Columbia has overall responsibility for ensuring the quality of all healthcare received by citizens of that province, including care they receive in BC retirement homes.

Behavioural Supports Ontario (BSO). A program funded by the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, that aims to educate and support families of Ontario's older adults who may be exhibiting changing behaviour associated with dementia or mental health disorders. See also responsive behaviours below.

Cognitive exercise programs (also called brain exercises, etc.) Any of various programs that stimulate memory and cognition, applied in an increasing number of memory care facilites. Some examples of programs are the Ashby Memory Method (see above), It’s Never 2 Late and (see below) Montessori Memory Care.

Continuing care. As with other phrases, this is used differently by different groups, in context. In some pages, we follow from the American idea that this is any facility that offers a continuum of care, from independence through long term care (or part of that continuum). Many Canadian sources use the phrase continuing care interchangeably with long term care (see below). Still other Canadian authorities muddy the water with other usages, notably the Canadian Institute for Health Information. It defines "hospital-based continuing care" for individuals not yet ready for discharge, also called "complex continuing care" (also extended care or chronic care). For the sake of helpfulness, we have recently added continuing care listings, with retirement homes offering a continuum of care at one location, as well as home care services that offer continuing care at home.

Convalescent care. Short term care required for anyone recovering from an operation or other medical health issue. Retirement homes offer convalescent care, especially for those recovering from hip surgery or knee surgery. Learn more about convalescent care.

Community Care Access Centers (CCACs) see Home and Community Care Support Services below.

Dementia. A range of brain diseases that affect people's ability to think and remember clearly. The term often refers to brain diseases in seniors; Alzheimer's Disease is one form of dementia.

Dementia Care Training Program. While this is a general phrase likely to be seen elsewhere, there is an official certification program offered in Ontario under this name. Related parts of the training include U-First! as well as a secondary program called Behavioral Support Training Program (BSTP).

Designated Supportive Living. See Supportive Living below.

Disability Tax Credit (DTC) – A non-refundable tax credit available from the Canada Revenue Agency. Little known to many, disabilities covered include several related to activities of daily living (ADLs), such as feeding and dressing.  Learn more about Disability Tax Credit availability.

Gated communities – Many active lifestyle and 55 plus communities are secured and gated, to monitor who comes into and who leaves the community. This is not necessarily for the sake of exclusion but is a security feature that allows residents to (for example) travel for extended periods of time without worrying about the safety of their home.

Gentle Persuasive Approach (also called simply gentle persuasion). A training program that inculcates patient responses for people caring for older adults with dementia. The program teaches interactive exercises, understanding and exercises that help learners anticipate responsive behaviours (see below) related to Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias.

Geriatric Care Manager (GCM). A health and human services specialist focused on advising and helping families caring for older relatives. Professional GCMs are very experienced in fields related to long-term care such as nursing, gerontology, social work, psychology, or case management in elder care.

Health care aides – see Personal Service Workers below.

Home and Community Care Support Services (aka LHINs). A system of health authorities in the province of Ontario. This system offers regional administration of public health care services in Ontario, providing coordination of services delivered by long term care homes and other health services (including hospitals, etc.) This has its origins in the network of Community Care Access Centers, begun January 1998, later called Local Health Integration Networks from 2017 to 2020. Learn more.

Home care. A suite of services and also products that provides care for seniors in their own home and helps them to remain independent and age in place. In-home care providers most often focus on assistance with activities of daily living but also provide companionship, run errands and more.

Home Accessibility Tax Credit (HATC). A non-refundable tax credit available from Canada Revenue Agency. The HATC can be applied for expenses incurred in the renovation of a home in order to accommodate the needs of someone who is disabled, including those who are aging, of course.  Learn more about the HATC.

Home Support Worker (HSW). Another synonym for personal support worker, though people who work in the home might more likley define themselves as such, and this may be appelied to someone with less medical training.

Home Owners' Association (also called owners' council, and other variations). As found in many active adult lifestyle and 55 plus communities, this is the central body or board that makes collective decisions for the community. Before moving into a community like this, see if you can attend a meeting of the council to be sure you understand how the community works at this level.

Hospice care. A type of care and philosophy of care that focuses on a holistic (both emotional and spiritual) approach to helping those who may be terminally ill or chronically ill. It is often considered synonymous with palliative care, though some authorities define them separately. 

Incontinence. A lack of voluntary control over urination or defecation, usually due to a decrease in muscle control. It can also be caused by disability, where a disabled person is unable to get to the bathroom quickly enough. In some cases, this can be a sign of memory loss.

Independent living. The most basic type of care offered in retirement residences, in which meals and housekeeping are taken care of by residence staff, while no other assistance is given. Learn more about independent living.

Java Music Club. A program for long-term care and supportive living environments, which facilitates peer support, learning and memory retention. The program was developed in Canada; a number of materials used in the program include custom CDs, an Aboriginal talking stick and a facilitator. The program focuses on peer interaction and has been adapted by over 600 facilities in North America.

Lewy Body Dementia. A form of dementia that occurs when abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein (named Lewy bodies, after Frederic Lewy, their discoverer) are found inside nerve cells of the brain. It's sometimes confused with Parkinson's.

Life lease. A form of housing, often associated with a sponsoring non-profit, where residents may buy into ownership and share costs in a retirement community and its accompanying facilities. Learn more about life lease retirement homes.

Living in my Today. This program, available through Schlegel Villages retirement residences, supports those living with dementia, learning what their inner life is like and renewing the commitment to care every new day. Learn more at

Long term care. Care facilities where residents require constant or near-constant monitoring. Residents might be entirely dependent on the care of others for feeding and/or bathing and other such activities. Many people in the later stages of dementia require long term care. Learn all about long term care homes.

Maintenance fees. In active adult lifestyle communities and some retirement residences, these can be extra fees that are part of the arrangement you will have to buy into.

Medical Expense Tax Credit (METC) – Tax break available from the Canada Revenue Association, applicable to anyone with medical expenses exceeding 3% of their total income. Caregivers and seniors can take maximum advantage of this credit using a dedicated payment strategy. Learn more about receiving the METC.

Memory care. A type of care, offered in retirement residences, that is focused on caring for those with Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias. The phrase "memory care" is inclusive of all types of dementia that cause memory loss.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). The name for a broad collection of mental health problems that do not have a single cause or outcome, and most often affect memory. It may increase the risk of Alzheimer's.

Momentum Real-Time Location System. See Real-Time Location System .

Montessori Memory Care. Similar to the Montessori teaching method, this type of caregiving focuses on offering sensory experiences that meet the person where they are. It uses various activities including art and music activities that stimulate memory (and the brain).

Naturally occuring retirement communities (NORCs). A community with a large proportion of residents 60, 65 or older that was never specifically planned or designed to meet the needs of seniors living independently in their homes. This can be a suburban neighbourhood, a condo complex or any other type of community. When neighbours work together to create senior events, implement onsite programs, procure home care services, etc., the neighbourhood emerges into a self-organized retirement community.

Nurse practitioners. These are registered nurses with additional education and experience, and are available at select retirement communities. They are able to perform some medical procedures, autonomously diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, and prescribe meditations. They treat the whole person, knowing people's entire medical history, offering health advice and teaching people to manage chronic illness. If you are looking at a retirement community with a nurse practitioner, this is a wonderful boon.

Palliative care. Multi-disciplinary medical care of those with serious (often terminal) illnesses, focused on the relief of pain, stress and symptoms (as opposed to a cure). Learn more about palliative care offered in seniors' care homes.   

Parkinson's Disease. A degenerative disorder of the central nervous system (CNS) that mainly affects motor control of the sufferer, manifest as shaking, rigidity and difficulty walking. It is a terminal disease, with post-diagnosis life expectancy an average of 7 to 14 years. Treatments and therapies for Parkinson's are available in some memory care facilities.

Personal care homes. In Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, this refers to residences where seniors receive assistance with daily living (what are called assisted living facilities in more populous provinces like Ontario and BC).  In Manitoba, this name applies to homes that are more like long term care homes elsewhere.

Personal support worker (PSW; also called personal service worker or healthcare aide, among other phrases). This is the front-line worker who works closely with seniors, providing care and companionship. These work under the auspices of both home care agencies (in the home) and retirement residences (in care facilities, ranging from assisted living to long term care). Learn more about PSWs. (Other synonymous variations include: Home Support Worker, Personal Attendant, Visiting Homemaker, Supportive Care Assistant and Patient Services Associate).

Real-Time Location System (RTLS). A platform used in some memory care facilities, using wireless technology embedded in badges or pendants worn by dementia sufferers. Software easily tracks the location of care residents, with the consent of families, of course.

Residential care. Any type of care where seniors live in a residence (often a smaller cottage-style home, though not necessarily) where they can avail themselves of care needed. For example, many independent living communities allow people to pick and choose care needed, or to hire in home care companies. Learn more about residential care.

Respite care. Short term care of seniors that offers relief to caregivers. This type of care is available through home care services and from retirement residences. Most health care authorities define this separately from convalescent care, but some treat them synonymously. Learn more about respite care.

Responsive behaviours. A softer way of framing or understanding negative behaviours associated with dementia, including behaviour like repetition of the same question, wandering, angry outbursts, and others. The phrase implies the perspective of the dementia patient who views these behaviours as a response to external things. These behaviours (common to many who suffer the same disorders) are conditioned mainly by changes in the brain that result in memory loss, loss of judgement and mood changes, etc. Caregivers and others may have a tendency to view these as "challenging behaviours" but the phrase "responsive behaviours" shifts focus from the impact of the dementia patient's behaviour, to the patient's perspective.

Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA). An Ontario independent, self-funded, not-for-profit corporation established in 2010, under the Retirement Homes Act (RHA) of Ontario. The RHRA works to ensure that all retirement homes in the province are places where people live with dignity, respect, privacy, security, and comfort. It inspects homes, licenses them and maintains a Public Register. Learn more about the RHRA.

Senile Dementia, Alzheimer's type (SDAT). – A medical professional designation for Alzheimer's that signals that Alzheimer's Disease is just one kind of dementia.

Senior companion. A secondary but very important service offered by personal support workers and sought by both seniors and their families. Learn more about senior companion care.

Snoezelen – a therapy used for Alzheimer's patients, involving the use of light to soothe and stimulate. Many memory care facilities offer Snoezelen rooms, and some apply this therapy in other environments including swimming pools. The term comes from Dutch and is, indeed, related to the idea of "snoozing." Learn more about Snoezelen in action.

Strata Property Act – A set of laws in the province of British Columbia. Notably, it has unique provisions allowing age restrictions in certain corporate-owned real estate. It specifically states that "a strata corporation may pass a bylaw that restricts the age of persons who may reside in a strata lot." See more.

Suite. A separate unit inside a retirement home or senior apartment building, where residences have their own space and control their own privacy. Sometimes couples share a suite but most suites are either 1 bedroom or studio size.

Supportive living (also called Designated Supportive Living). A term used in Alberta and some other places to denote assisted living (the phrase most often used to refer to this kind of care).

Sundown Syndrome (also called Sundowner's Syndrome). The name for a collection of symptoms, including wandering and agitation, that often manifests in the evening or at dusk. This is often a sign of the progress of Alzheimer's Disease, but not always. Learn more about Sundown Syndrome.

Tasks of daily living – see activities of daily living

Validation therapy. Somewhat related to responsive behaviours. This is the treatment of dementia-related beliefs, thoughts and feelings as valid, because the sufferer thinks they are. Trying to correct beliefs or ideas is only distressing, in the end. For example, if a dementia sufferer believes a parent is coming to visit them, correcting them by telling them the parent is dead is not a good strategy. Care staff trained in validation therapy treat all thoughts and feelings as legitimate, and in this case will steer the conversation in a different direction to reduce stress felt by the patient.

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