Below you will find a list of common geriatric terms and concepts:


  • Advance directive- statement issued in advance of an illness about the extent and type of treatment one would want in the event that one were incapable of participating in decision making regarding treatment.
  • Ageism- treating individuals differently based on the fact that they are from a different age group. The term usually has a negative connotation.
  • Assisted living facility- an institution that provides housing in a residential setting for elderly individuals who need limited health care monitoring.
  • Autonomy- a moral concept referring to the ability of competent individuals to make decisions over their own lives.
  • Beneficence- a moral concept referring to doing what is believed to be in another person’s best interests.
  • Coercion- forcing someone overtly or subtly to make a decision against his/her will.
  • Competence- having the mental capacity to make decisions concerning one’s own life.
  • Confidentiality- the duty to share entrusted information responsibly.
  • Death with Dignity Act- a law enacted by Oregon that allows the practice of physician-assisted suicide in very specific circumstances.
  • DNR / DNRO- a medical order that directs a health care team not to resuscitate a person in the event of cardiopulmonary arrest.
  • Durable power of attorney for health care- a type of proxy directive, which gives a surrogate the authority to make health care decisions for another individual.


  • Futility- a situation where health care teams believe, according to their clinical judgment, that current or future medical procedures would be inappropriate for a patient because those procedures would offer little or no benefit.
  • Genetic testing- methods for identifying carriers of genetic diseases, used with the aim of understanding, preventing, and delaying those diseases.
  • Guardian- a decision-maker who has been given the legal authority to make decisions in the best interests of another individual.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)- a federal law that was created to protect information contained within the medical records of patients and to simplify the electronic transmission of medical records.
  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)- an organization that provides health care services by applying the principles of managed care.
  • Home health agency (HHA)- an organization that provides health care staff, services, and supplies to the homes of individuals; usually, HHAs must be accredited by the relevant state.
  • Hospice- a method for delivering palliative and supportive services to patients. It typically is a service used to provide comfort care for dying patients during the last few months of their lives.
  • Institutional Review Board (IRB)- committee responsible under federal law for reviewing human subjects research, including the consent process and acceptability of risks.
  • Instructional directive- a method for explicitly specifying, usually in written form, the types of medical procedures that an individual desires in future situations.


  • Justice- a moral concept referring to the notion that resources should be fairly distributed within society.
  • Managed care- a philosophy of providing health care that relies on that business principles and practices, such as market competition.
  • Nursing home- a facility which provides extended nursing, personal, or custodial care for individuals who are unable to live independently.
  • Palliative care- measures aimed at alleviating a patient’s symptoms and pain.
  • Passive euthanasia- allowing a patient to die by withholding or withdrawing medical procedures.
  • Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA)- a federal law enacted by Congress in 1991 that upholds a competent patient’s right to make choices about his/her own health care.
  • Persistent vegetative state- a medical condition typically characterized by the lost of higher brain functions but retaining involuntary functions. As a result, a person in this condition does not usually require artificial respiratory support. Although the patient is not conscious, he/she may appear to go through sleep/wake cycles.
  • Physician-assisted suicide- a situation where a physician intentionally prescribes a medication to a patient so that the patient can use the medication to end his/her own life. The only state that currently allows the practice (in limited circumstances) is Oregon.
  • Privacy- the right to be free from interference and to exert control over one’s own life.
  • Proxy (or Surrogate) - person designated by the patient to make health care decisions on the patient’s behalf.


  • Triage- a type of strategy applied when there are too many problems to handle at one time given the amount of resources available. It entails ranking problems based on their severity.
  • Valid informed consent- the concept that a competent person can consent to any form of medical treatment as long as the person has been adequately informed about the treatment and the decision is voluntary. Valid refusal- the concept that a competent person can refuse any form of medical treatment as long as the person has been adequately informed and the decision is voluntary.
  • Ward- an individual who has been placed under the protection of a guardian.
  • Withdrawing treatment- halting a medical procedure that has already been initiated.
  • Withholding treatment- the refusal of a medical procedure that has not yet been initiated.