Senior Resources » Senior Resource Glossary of Retirement Community Terms

Senior Resource Glossary of Retirement Community Terms

What is a retirement community? Are there different types? What’s an entry fee? And, why do homeowners associations ask for monthly dues?


When you begin searching for a new home, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed as you run into lots of new terms and phrases. Many websites and realtors often refer to the same places, but use different names. This can be confusing and downright tedious! Whether you’re planning ahead or actively seeking a community to live in, start by learning the basics. We’ve compiled the ultimate glossary of retirement community terms to help sort out the mess and help get you going on your journey. Learn all the common phrases and definitions you’ll run into right here!

glossary definition page

Location Terms

55+ Community – (1) Any age-restricted neighborhood for adults 55 and older, or, (2) referring to senior citizens as a group.


Active Adult Community – Constructed to cater to aging adults, usually 55 and older, who do not need regular medical or personal care. Active adult communities usually feature resort-style amenities and convenient services. Houses, condos, townhouses, and apartments are common living spaces.

Aging In Place – The CDC defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” Learn more about aging in place, here.

Assisted Living – Typically for older adults who lead active lifestyles but may need medical and/or personal care help. Living space varies from apartments to individual rooms, and features shared common areas. Residents are as independent as possible with support from staff.

Board and Care Homes – Any senior living facility.


CCRC – A continuing care retirement community. A CCRC combines traditional retirement living with the services of assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.

Congregate Housing For Seniors – Any senior living facility where residents have their own room or unit, but share common areas. This is housing for those who require little or no help with personal care.

Gated Community – A residential area where access is restricted and managed.

Independent Living Community – Usually apartments or individual units that are designed for seniors who do not need regular medical or personal care. However, limited care options may be available as needed.

Life Plan Community – A life plan community is the same as a CCRC. It is retirement living that is combined with the services of assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.


Luxury Senior Apartments – Apartments that offer larger units, more upscale amenities, and are typically higher in price. Complexes are often age-restricted and also located near cultural activities.

Residential Care Facility – Any facility that provides long-term care and residence. Examples include assisted living, nursing homes, and skilled nursing facilities.

Retirement Home – A house or apartment that is designed to meet the needs of a senior adult. This term is sometimes used interchangeably with “nursing home.”

Senior Apartments – Apartments that are designed with accessibility in mind. The standard complex will offer one- or two-bedroom units, senior-friendly comfort, and a variety of amenities. Many will be age-restricted. Learn more about senior apartments, here.

Financial & Contractual Terms

A La Carte Pricing – This type of pricing allows the resident in a senior living facility to pay for amenities or services individually, or as needed.

Entry Fee – This is the upfront cost in a community or facility. The entry fee is usually defined as an advanced payment for services that a resident may use during their time living there. Entry fees are most common in places like CCRCs but can be found in many other communities as well.

Fee-For-Service Contract – This is the same as paying “a la carte.” Services are paid for individually and as needed.

HOA Fees – HOA Fees are homeowners association fees. These are monthly fees in a community that goes to maintaining and improving properties.


Long-term Care Insurance – Health insurance rarely pays for costs associated with long-term care. Help with daily activities and mobility are a pretty big part of receiving long-term care. Your health insurance provider will only cover doctors and hospitals. So, that’s where long-term care insurance steps in. It’ll help cover custodial care, meal services, and housekeeping, as well as room and board if you reside in a facility. Learn more about LTCI, here.

Subsidy – A sum of money granted by the government to assist a business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive.

Subsidized Senior Housing – Housing that is specifically designed to make payments affordable for lower-income seniors.

Other Retirement Community Terms

ADL – Activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, personal hygiene, and toileting.

Ambulatory – This term relates to the ability to walk or move. When used in reference to care (ambulatory care), it usually means outpatient.

Area Agencies on Aging – “Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) are public or private nonprofit agencies designated by states to address the needs and concerns of all older persons at the regional and local levels.” For more information on AAAs, visit

Concierge Service – Much like a hotel, a concierge service in a retirement community provides a variety of assistance with tasks. A concierge service can do things such as grocery shopping, running errands, preparing meals, and providing transportation.

Continuum of Care – A continuum of care refers to the delivery of care over a period of time. For seniors, it’s the care they need during each stage of life.


Custodial Care – Non-medical or personal care.

Fair Housing Act – “The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities.” To learn more about the Fair Housing Act and how it applies to seniors, click here.

HOA – A homeowners association. An HOA is an organization within a community that makes and enforces rules for the properties and residents. HOAs will usually require monthly fees/dues.

Home Care – Health or personal care that can be provided at home by a family member or professional.

Home Health Aides – A professional who provides home healthcare services. This person may also help with ADLs.

Hospice – Hospice care is medical support for those who are nearing the end of life. Patients whose life expectancy is 6 months or less will begin treatment that is focused on comfort and symptom management. Care is provided with a goal of quality over quantity. Learn more about hospice, here.

HUDUS Department of Housing and Urban Development

IADL – Instrumental activities of daily living. Much like ADLs, but those that require more complex thinking, such as managing one’s own medication.


Long-term Care – Long-term care refers to the various medical and custodial services provided to a person who is unable to perform basic activities of daily living and/or needs regular health monitoring. Long-term care can be provided at home, in assisted living, or in a nursing home.

Memory Care – Refers to medical or personal care specifically for those who have conditions that affect their memory, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Ombudsman – An advocate that educates residents and their families about their rights as long-term care consumers.

PCA – Personal care assistant. A PCA helps with ADL.

Ready to look for a retirement community?

senior couple outside of house

Now that you know some basic terms, you can move forward with your search for a new home! Finding the perfect retirement community can be easy with the right knowledge and tools! Start here, now!

Related: The Cost of Senior Apartments, Explained: Affordable, Market Rate, & Luxury


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Senior Resource Glossary of Retirement Community Terms

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Originally published March 18, 2022


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