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Say That Again Please

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Medical Jargon

Health care professionals develop their own language—medical jargon that they use as a form of shorthand. Unfortunately, most people do not know the medical jargon and may feel too intimidated to ask for explanations.  

When talking with health care professionals, you are likely to hear terms that you do no understand. When healthcare professionals use jargon – you need to reply: “Say that again please.”  Remember this. It is their obligation to communicate clearly. 

Here are some common medical jargon terms commonly-used in the doctor’s office, the community clinic, or the hospital. 

This is not a complete list — that would take a huge book. 

Activities of Daily Living (ADL)

These are everyday activities that include:
eating or feeding oneself,
maintaining bladder and bowel control,
toileting, and
moving about the home environment.
 “Personal care services” help people with ADLs. This care is provided by workers such as home health aides, nursing assistants and personal care aides.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL)

These are activities that allow an individual to live independently. These include actions such as shopping, managing finances, preparing meals, housekeeping, and taking medications


For government-funded programs, a professional such as a nurse or social worker completes a standardized assessment of an older adult’s abilities, assets, and concerns in order to determine eligibility.
Assessment may be done for services that are provided in the home, community settings, or in chronic care facilities. 

Confidentiality and Privacy 

Confidentiality refers to the obligation of a health professional to treat a patient’s information as private. Privacy refers to the right of an individual to decide what personal information can be shared with others.

Cognitive Impairment 

Cognitive impairment refers to the inability to think, reason, remember, or perceive.
It can be temporary—the result of such conditions as an infection, medications, over or under-stimulation, or lack of oxygen. It can also be the result of a disease like Alzheimer’s disease or multiple strokes.

Age-related cognitive decline

As they age, most people experience memory lapses as a normal part of aging processes. They can’t find their keys. They meet someone and have their name “on the tip of their tongue.”
General health and lifestyle contribute to this common and normal forgetfulness.   

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Mild cognitive impairment refers to subtle, but measurable brain dysfunction that is greater than normally expected with aging. It can include problems with language, attention, reasoning, judgment, reading, and writing.
Mild cognitive impairment may increase the risk of later developing dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological conditions. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.


Eligibility refers to the criteria that are used to determine whether an individual will be given a service or accepted into a program. 

For government-funded programs, eligibility is determined through a professional assessment and may include criteria such as:

  • age,
  • medical status,
  • residence requirement (e.g., live in the province for a certain period of time), and
  • other criteria unique to each program.

For privately-funded programs, the client and the provider together determine eligibility or suitability of the service. 

Geriatric Team

A geriatric team is comprised of individuals from a variety of professions who work together to meet the special needs of older adults.
The team often includes a physician or geriatrician, nurse, nurse practitioner, occupational therapist, social worker, physiotherapist, and pharmacist. These professionals have specialized, or have experience, in the care of older adults. 

In-Home Services  (Home Care)

This refers to professional and personal care services provided to individuals living in private dwellings, apartments, seniors’ lodges, and other seniors’ housing facilities. 

Long-term or Chronic Care

Long-term or chronic care refers to the services provided to people with prolonged physical illness, disability, or cognitive impairment.
Their purpose is to help people maintain a level of functioning rather than to correct or cure medical problems. Most commonly, assistance with activities of daily living (ADL) and professional care are included.

The phrase “long-term care” often refers to facilities that provide nursing and other professional care to individuals with chronic illness.
(Note: these facilities have different names among the Canadian provinces.) 

Transition Unit

A transition unit may be found in a hospital or long-term care setting. It provides care for patients who have been treated for an acute health problem, but are now stable and might be able to return to the community. The unit focuses on the improvement of function in activities of daily living (ADLs). 

This list includes only some common terms that you and your parents are likely to hear.

Remember: if you do not understand anything that is said — ask for an explanation. “Say that again, please.”

For more information on the healthcare team,  read the article “Who’s Who on the Healthcare Team.”  

For more information on government services in Canada, refer to the article “Senior Services Information.”

To print this article, download the pdf.
Say that again please. Medical Jargon.

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