Learn the Senior Living Levels of Care (8 Key Terms to Know)

As you enter your golden years, you naturally start to think about how you can make this period of life safer, easier, and happier. And if you’re thinking about how to live well as a senior, you’re surely starting to explore senior living options. Senior living communities offer rich opportunities for community, enrichment, and engagement—all taken at your own pace.

Unfortunately, the world of senior living communities can also offer up some bewildering terms and distinctions! The last thing you want, when you investigate your options for a big decision like senior care, is to be unsure if you understand exactly what you’re reading or which options might be right for you. Here are eight key terms you’ll run into during your senior living research.

Independent Living

Independent Living is senior living designed for those who can conduct their daily lives without help. These residents don’t move into their senior community for special assistance. They move in so they can enjoy the benefits of living in a place designed specifically for them.

At Branchlands, for instance, life at the Manor House frees Independent Living residents from daily housekeeping and meal preparation, along with yard and home maintenance. With our free local transportation, residents can access the many delights of Charlottesville without any need to worry about driving or maintaining a car. Of course, the biggest benefits of senior living aren’t in what residents no longer have to do. The appeal is all about how much there is to do. With all the extra free time, residents can enjoy community activities and amenities. They get to experience much richer social lives.

There might come a day when their needs change, but for now Independent Living residents are interested in senior living because of the greater potential for a full and fulfilling life.

Assisted Living

In Assisted Living, residents receive a greater level of care. The specific kinds of assistance are scaled to each resident’s needs, but they can involve help with dressing, bathing, and other daily activities. At Linden House Assisted Living, there’s full-time nursing care and an on-site physical therapist to help keep residents as flexible and active as possible.

Assisted Living residents get all the benefits available to those in Independent Living, plus whatever additional daily support they need to be able to live meaningful and engaged lives. We ensure they are able to do it all, from taking part in exercise to participating in their favorite hobby and social activities.

Memory Care

Memory Care means Assisted Living care specifically tailored to improve the quality of life for seniors with memory loss and cognitive challenges. At Branchlands, our highly trained staff work to offer Memory Care residents as much comfort as possible in the routines and pleasures of normal life. We also offer specialized services such as music therapy and aroma therapy, individually tailored sleep routines, and assistance with comforting, memory-rich activities like cooking and baking.

At Branchlands, Memory Care is located within Linden House Assisted Living, but it has its own floor, where seniors with cognitive challenges can receive the increased care and supervision they need.

Respite Care

Some communities offer short term care stays for seniors. Families can arrange these stays by the week, by the day, or even by the hour. Respite Care offers family members who are full-time caregivers a little time off, while providing the full and specialized care their loved one needs. Providers can offer Respite Care as an in-home service, or at a specialized ‘Adult Day Care’ center, or at a senior living community which offers this service in addition to their standard long-term stays.

When Respite Care is offered at a senior living community, it’s sometimes called “short-term assisted living” or “residential respite care.” Please note that Branchlands does not offer this service. We are exclusively a long-term residential community for seniors.

Nursing Home

Nursing homes provide the highest level of care outside of a hospital. Seniors who require significant medical help around the clock often need the services of a nursing home, rather than an Assisted Living community. They might be bedridden, or otherwise in need of help to perform tasks such as eating.

Nursing homes tend to cost notably more, as the level and amount of medical services they provide is higher. While we provide many kinds of care and assistance at Branchlands, we do not provide the services of a nursing home.

Continuum of Care

This term covers a community’s range of services and care options. At Branchlands, for instance, the continuum of care ranges from Independent living through Assisted Living and Memory Care. It also includes the spectrum of optional services, such as pet care and medication assistance. When you are choosing a senior care community, you might want to investigate their continuum of care.

This is particularly important because at some point your care needs might change. You’ll want to know whether the range of services and care options in that community will be able to support you when your needs increase—as is usually the case at Branchlands—or whether you’d need to move outside the community to receive a greater level of care.

Personalized Care

You’ll find many senior living communities advertising personalized care. At Branchlands, personalized care means that care, services, and activities are designed not just to encourage engagement and well-being but also autonomy and personal preference. Especially in an Assisted Living community, residents’ needs and capabilities can vary widely. We seek to encourage the level of independence each resident can maintain, and we provide services which support individual dignity and preferences. Instead of treating all residents the same, we adapt our care to each unique resident.

Each senior care community might have their own definition of personalized care. Be sure to ask for the details of how services are personalized to each resident’s personality and needs.


Amenities is an umbrella term to cover all the perks a community provides. It refers to those services which are included in the standard monthly payment and also those which might require extra fees. At Branchlands, most services are already included in the monthly payment, such as meals, housekeeping, group trips, the rich assortment of weekly activities, and the fitness, movie, and game rooms. A few optional services, though, come with a small fee, such as beauty salon sessions and pet care.

When you explore your options, we recommend always asking which amenities are included in the standard rate and which involve an extra cost.

Are there other senior living care terms you’re wondering about? Or do you have questions about the explanations above? If so, please let us know. We want your experience navigating this important decision to be as straightforward as possible. You just have to ask!