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The Heart and Hands of Home Care

A private, non-profit home health agency

Certified & Licensed Home Health Care

Care nurtures the human spirit as well as the human body…


Health Care and You:
A Glossary of Terms

What do all those Medical Terms mean?


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M |
N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z 


Activities of Daily Living (ADL's)

Activities such as bathing, dressing, getting in and out of bed or a chair, walking, using the toilet and even eating can all become problematic. For a disabled and/or older person, performing these kinds of activities may present a real challenge. Many seniors who require help with such activities are predominantly independent, requiring help with just one or two ADL's. In such cases, intermittent help from a family member or friend may be all that is needed. However, in other cases, particularly when needs are more extensive and/or the importance of scheduling these activities is critical, informal care from unskilled individuals may not be enough.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, is an infectious disease of the immune system caused by a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). AIDS leaves the body vulnerable to potentially fatal infections. The virus is transmitted through infected bodily fluids, such as semen and blood, by having sexual intercourse with someone who is infected, the use of contaminated hypodermic syringes, and placental transfer between mother and fetus.

Acute Care

An immediate and severe episode of illness is described as acute. The subsequent treatment of injuries due to an immediate and severe episode of illness, an accident or other trauma, or recovery from surgery qualifies as acute care. Acute Care is often used to describe treatment that lasts only for a short time.

Adult and Social Day Care Facilities

Adult Day Care facilities are designed for adults who have a need for social and or medical attention and supervision, but who do not require institutionalization in a nursing home. Currently Tompkins County does not have a medical day care facility however, Cayuga Ridge plans to open one in the future. Longview is Tompkins County's Social Day Care facility. This facility is meant for adults who have no significant medical needs, but who may benefit from socialization opportunities and need supervision during the day. By visiting a social day care facility, the senior has companionship and supervision during the day.

Advance Directives

A legal document that states the treatment or care a person wishes to receive or not receive if he or she becomes unable to make medical decisions (for example, due to being unconscious or in a coma). Some types of advance directives are living wills and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders.

Age-related Macular Degeneration 

A condition in which there is a slow breakdown of cells in the center of the retina (the light-sensitive layers of nerve tissue at the back of the eye). This blocks vision in the center of the eye and can cause problems with activities such as reading and driving. Age-related macular degeneration is most often seen in people who are over the age of 50. Also called AMD, ARMD, and macular degeneration.

Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease affects more than four million adults in the US and is the most common form of dementia, a brain disorder characterized by impairment in thinking, memory and decision-making skills. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease that leads to irreversible dementia (loss of brain function). Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's, but a variety of medications can improve the quality of life of some people with the disease. A working diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is usually made on the basis of a neurologic examination. A definitive diagnosis can be made only at autopsy.

Ambulatory Care

Ambulatory care is any medical care, including diagnosis, observation, treatment and rehabilitation that are provided on an outpatient basis–without admission to a hospital. Ambulatory care is given to persons who are able to ambulate or walk about.


A disease that causes inflammation and pain in the joints.

Assisted Living

Assisted living is a type of housing designed for people who need various levels of medical and personal care. Living spaces can be individual rooms, apartments, or shared quarters. The facilities generally provide a home-like setting and are physically designed to promote the resident's independence, while keeping mind she or he may need help with some activities of daily living.


Asthma is an inflammatory disorder that occurs when the airways in your lungs get inflamed and constricted. These attacks cause wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness, pain or pressure.



Bed Sore

A bed sore is a painful, often reddened area of wounded or irritated skin caused by pressure and lack of movement, and made worse by exposure to urine or other irritating substances on the skin. Untreated bed sores can become seriously infected or gangrenous (having dead tissue). Bed sores are a major problem for patients who are confined to bed or a wheelchair. They can be prevented by moving the patient frequently, changing bedding, and keeping the skin clean and dry.


Benign means there are no cancer cells present, or "not malignant." A benign tumor does not invade surrounding tissue or spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor may get larger, but it stays put (in the same place).


Bereavement is the time period after a death or loss, during which grief is experienced and mourning occurs. The time spent in bereavement often depends on the person's relationship to the person who died, and how much time was spent anticipating the loss.

Bladder, Overactive

An overactive bladder is a sudden contraction of the muscular wall of the bladder that can't be controlled, causing urinary urgency, or an immediate unstoppable need to urinate. It is a form of urinary incontinence (the unintentional loss of urine) and affects about one in 11 adults, particularly older adults.




Cancer occurs when cells grow faster than normal and without purpose. These out-of-control cells build up into masses, or tumors. Cancerous growths are often treated with surgery, chemotherapy (drug treatment), radiation (typically x-rays), and biotherapy or immunotherapy (using agents to make your immune system better able to find and destroy cancer cells). These forms of therapy may be used separately or in combination. Newer forms of treatment are being developed every day and may be available to you as well.

Case Management

The monitoring and coordination of treatment rendered to patients, outlined in a Medical Doctor's orders, who have a specific diagnosis or who require extensive services.

Case Manager

At the Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County a Case Manager is a nurse who manages and administers the plan of care for a patient within their home. The Case Manager is available to answer patients' questions and resolve any issues that arise concerning home care.

Certified Home Health Agencies (CHHA's)

New York State licenses two types of organizations that provide home health care: Certified Home Health Agencies or CHHA's and Licensed Home Care Services Agencies or LHCSA's. Only the employees of such agencies are permitted to provide hands-on care to patients, from skilled nursing to physical therapy or to help with bathing and administration of medications. Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County provides both part-time, intermittent health care and support services to patients as well as long-term nursing and home health aide services for patients who require more care. We also provide an array of other services including occupational and speech therapy, social worker and nutrition services, medical supplies, equipment and Tele-health monitoring.

The difference between a Certified Home Health Care Agency (CHHA) and a Licensed Home Health Care Agency (LHCSA) is that a Certified Home Health Care Agency can bill Medicare and a Licensed Home Health Care Agency cannot. As a result, a Certified Home Health Care Agency has to abide by different regulations and guidelines than a Licensed Home Health Care Agency. Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County is an example of a Certified Home Health Care Agency; Community Health and Home Care, which is the private care division of Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County, is an example of a Licensed Home Health Care Agency.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). CMS is responsible for, among other programs, Medicare, Medicaid, and HIPAA.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

The two most common forms of COPD are chronic bronchitis, in which the airways leading to the lungs become inflamed and partially blocked with excess mucus, and emphysema, in which the air sacs in the lungs are damaged and trap air. Many people with COPD have a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and some may also have asthma. By any name, COPD can cause difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, weakness, and exhaustion.
The leading cause of COPD is smoking, though other risk factors include prolonged exposure to indoor or outdoor pollution and a history of early childhood lung infections. COPD can't be cured, but your doctor can help you improve your symptoms and slow the damage to your lungs by suggesting lifestyle modifications and prescribing medications to allow air to travel more easily through the breathing passages.

Chronic Pain

The truth is – no one else can feel your pain. As a result, it can sometimes be hard for others to appreciate just how deeply chronic pain can affect the way you, or a loved one feels or functions. Chronic paid can persist for weeks, months and sometimes years as pain signals remain active in the nervous system causing the pain to take on a life of its own. There may be an initial cause of pain such as an injury like a strained back or an illness like shingles or there may be an ongoing cause of pay; headaches, arthritis or cancer and pain can also develop for no apparent reason. Whatever the reason, pain can lead to fatigue, sleeplessness, changes in mood and immune function and other ill effects. Depending on the pain you experience your doctor may suggest lifestyle modifications and prescribe medications and other treatments. Visiting Nurse Service can help you with your treatment plan so you can get maximum help for your pain and resume your life.




Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, however there are up to 50 other causes of dementia, including neurological diseases like Parkinson's disease, vascular disorders, traumatic brain injury, chronic alcohol use, and vitamin or hormone deficiencies. Some forms of dementia can be effectively treated if the underlying cause is addressed. Your doctor will suggest lifestyle modifications—such as exercise and relaxation techniques—and may prescribe medications to try to slow the disorder's progression and perhaps improve mental function.


If you have diabetes, your body doesn't produce enough insulin, or your body doesn't respond well to insulin – an important hormone. Insulin helps your body move glucose from the foods you eat into your cells for fuel (energy). There are a variety of symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes; from fatigue to increased thirst and urination to slow wound healing. Blood sugar monitoring, health eating, exercise and taking doctor-prescribed medications properly are important steps in managing this chronic condition.

Discharge Planning

Discharge means release of a patient from care.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)

A type of advance directive in which a person states that healthcare providers should not perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (restarting the heart) if his or her heart or breathing stops.

Durable Power of Attorney

A legal document to give someone else permission to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself (i.e., you are disabled or incapacitated). The durable power of attorney allows another person to make bank transactions, sign Social Security checks, apply for disability, or simply write checks to pay the utility bill while an individual is unable to respond due to a medical condition.

Dual Eligible

A Medicare beneficiary who also receives the full range of Medicaid benefits.

Drug Formulary

A list of prescription drugs covered by a given health plan and provided by approved pharmacies.




Swelling caused by excess fluid in body tissues.

Eden at Home

The core concept of the Eden Alternative is to improve the lives of Elders by eliminating the plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom that make life intolerable and to ensure that Elders live in home environments enlivened with plants, animals and are regularly visited by caring people. The Eden Alternative shows how companionship, the opportunity to give meaningful care to other living things, and the variety and spontaneity that mark an enlivened environment, can succeed where pills and therapies often fail.


A line graph that shows changes in the electrical activity of the heart over time. It is made by an instrument called an electrocardiograph. The graph can show that there are abnormal conditions, such as blocked arteries, changes in electrolytes (particles with electrical charges), and changes in the way electrical currents pass through the heart tissue. Also called ECG and electrocardiogram.


A block in an artery caused by blood clots or other substances, such as fat globules, infected tissue, or cancer cells.


A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating hormone disorders


A procedure that uses an endoscope to examine the inside of the body. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease.

Experimental Drug

A substance that has been tested in a laboratory and has gotten approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be tested in people. An experimental drug may be approved by the FDA for use in one disease or condition but be considered investigational in other diseases or conditions. Also called investigational agent and investigational drug.




Flu is short for "influenza" and is a contagious virus that causes inflammation of the respiratory tract. Unlike a cold that comes on gradually, the flu begins suddenly with a headache, chills and a cough, immediately followed by fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches, and tiredness. Much of the illness can be prevented by getting an annual flu shot vaccination.




Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases in older people and with problems related to aging.


Glaucoma is an eye condition in which the fluid pressure inside the eyes rises because of slowed fluid drainage from the eye. If untreated, glaucoma may damage the optic nerve and other parts of the eye, causing loss of vision or even blindness. The elderly, African-Americans, and people with family histories of the disease are at greatest risk.


A simple sugar (monosaccharide) that is the body's main source of energy. It can be consumed or given through an IV if the level of blood glucose is too low, as in hypoglycemia.


Physical, mental and emotional suffering caused from the separation or loss of a loved one.



Healing Touch 

A form of complementary and alternative medicine based on the belief that vital energy flows through the human body. This energy is said to be balanced or made stronger by practitioners who pass their hands over, or gently touch, a patient's body. Healing touch is being studied in patients receiving cancer therapy, to find out if it can improve quality of life, boost the immune system, or reduce side effects. Healing touch is a type of energy therapy. Also called therapeutic touch.

Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy is a legal document that designates a person who can make health care decisions for an individual, if that person is not able to make her or his wishes known. This designated person has the same rights to request or refuse treatment that the individual would have if he or she could make and communicate decisions.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA)

HIPAA is a federal law designed to protect patients' medical records and other health information that is provided to health plans, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers. Developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, these new standards give patients access to their medical records and more control over how their personal health information is used and disclosed.

Heart Disease

The term heart disease (also called cardiovascular disease) includes many conditions that affect the heart's ability to function normally, including congestive heart failure, congenital heart disease, heart valve disease, cardiomyopathy, and coronary artery disease. The most common cause of heart disease is a progressive build-up of fatty material on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart itself. Without an adequate blood supply, the heart simply doesn't function properly. Coronary artery disease is a chronic disease without a cure but it can be treated with lifestyle modifications, a variety of medications, surgery and other procedures.

Hepatitis A Virus

A virus that causes a serious liver disease. It is usually spread by contact with an infected person's stool by eating food he or she has handled after not washing hands, but it can be spread in other ways. Symptoms of infection include jaundice, dark urine, and fever and other flu-like symptoms.

Hepatitis B Virus

A virus that causes hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). It is carried and passed to others through blood or sexual contact. Also, infants born to infected mothers may become infected with the virus.

Hepatitis C Virus

A virus that causes hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). It is carried and passed to others through blood or sexual contact. Also, infants born to infected mothers may become infected with the virus.

Hepatitis D Virus

A type of hepatitis virus that may be present in the body at the same time as the hepatitis B virus. It makes the hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) caused by hepatitis B much worse. The hepatitis D virus and the hepatitis B virus are spread to others through blood or sexual contact. Infants born to infected mothers may also become infected with the virus. Also called hepatitis delta virus.

High Blood Pressure (hypertension)

"Blood Pressure" is the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries you're your heart beats (systolic pressure) and when it rests between beats (diastolic pressure). Blood pressure is necessary because it, along with your beating heart keeps your blood circulating through the body so it can provide your organs and tissues with the oxygen and nutrients they need. High blood pressure however is harmful because it makes the heart work too hard. Hardening of the arteries and thickening of the artery walls contribute to high blood pressure though it can also be caused by other health problems. Blood pressure is considered high when the reading consistently exceeds 140 (systolic pressure) over 90 (diastolic pressure).


HIV is a virus that causes AIDS, and is transmitted through sexual contact, blood transfusions, needle sharing, or from mother to child during pregnancy or breast-feeding. HIV infects and causes severe damage to a person's immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off life-threatening infections and cancers. While there is no cure for an HIV infection, the condition can be treated to prevent complications and delay the progression to AIDS, the final stage of HIV infection. Your doctor will suggest lifestyle modifications and prescribe antiviral drugs to help your immune system recover from HIV infection and improve T-cell counts.

Home Care

Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County provides a full range of nursing, rehabilitation therapy, social work and home health aide services in a patient's home. Our philosophy encompasses so much more than the medical model that focuses on the physical. We believe that many people suffer from plagues of the spirit as well as the body causing loneliness, helplessness and boredom. These plagues can impact everyone on the care partner team (friends, family, clinical staff). Our team of home care professionals are dedicated to preventing emotional suffering and as such are trained in the Eden at Home philosophy – a holistic approach to patient care.

Home Health Aide (HHA)

A home health aide provides health-related services to persons in the home and is certified by the New York State Department of Health. Home health aides receive careful training in such areas as working with immobile patients, monitoring a patient's temperature and pulse rate and preventing infections. By law, HHA's are not permitted to place a medication in a patient's mouth, but they can count out and place medications in a patient's hand. They can also help with household activities, such as grocery shopping and laundry.

Home Safety

Assess your home environment and remove fall hazards, including unsecured area rugs, loose electrical cords, and items on the floor, like newspapers, slippers and other clutter. Be careful leaving your home during dangerous weather conditions, such as heavy rain or snow, or when there is an accumulation of snow or ice on the sidewalks. Home safety measures can help eliminate "trips and falls" that can have serious consequences especially to elders.


A program that provides care for the terminally ill at home or in a facility. Hospice care involves a team-oriented approach that addresses the medical, physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs of the patient. Hospice care also provides bereavement support and counseling to the patient's family or care partner(s). Hospice care is covered under Medicare Part A.




A vaccination that stimulates the immune system by creating resistance to a disease.


Incontinence is the inability to control urination or defecation (a bowel movement).


Invasion and multiplication of germs in the body. Infections can occur in any part of the body and can spread throughout the body. The germs may be bacteria, viruses, yeast, or fungi. They can cause a fever and other problems, depending on where the infection occurs. When the body's natural defense system is strong, it can often fight the germs and prevent infection. Some cancer treatments can weaken the natural defense system.

Influenza (flu)

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious virus that causes inflammation of the respiratory tract. Unlike a cold that comes on gradually, the flu begins suddenly with a headache, chills and a cough, immediately followed by fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches, and tiredness. Much of the illness can be prevented by getting an annual flu shot vaccination.

Infusion Therapy

Infusion therapy involves the administration of fluids, nutrients, medications, blood products intravenously for various reasons such as pain management, treatment of infections, chemotherapy, as well as treatment and management of various diseases and conditions.


A hormone created by the pancreas that controls the glucose level in blood. Drugs containing this hormone are used in the treatment of diabetes.




Joint Replacement

Joint replacement (e.g. hip and knee) surgery involves replacing the ends of the bones and the cartilage in a damaged joint to relieve pain from arthritis, an injury, or another medical condition and restore the range of motion and strength you need to perform your daily activities. As you recover from surgery, you'll probably use a walker or crutches to walk and some of your movements may be restricted during the healing process. Doing physical therapy and following a prescribed exercise program can help you get the greatest benefit from your surgery. Your doctor will recommend precautions to take and prescribe medications to reduce pain and soreness.



Kidney Failure

Kidney failure (or renal failure) occurs when the kidneys stop working and are not able to remove waste and extra water from the blood or keep body chemicals in balance. Acute or severe kidney failure happens suddenly (for example, after an injury) and may be treated and cured. Chronic kidney failure develops over many years, may be caused by conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, and cannot be cured. Chronic kidney failure may lead to total and long-lasting kidney failure, called end-stage renal disease (ESRD). A person in ESRD needs dialysis (the process of cleaning the blood by passing it through a membrane or filter) or a kidney transplant.




An area of abnormal tissue. A lesion may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).


A condition marked by drowsiness and an unusual lack of energy and mental alertness. It can be caused by many things, including illness, injury, or drugs.


Cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream.

Licensed Home Care Services Agency (LHCSA)

Licensed Home Care Service Agencies are authorized by New York State to provide home health care to patients, including skilled nursing and certified Home Health Aide service.  Another New York State license for home health care is Certified Home Health Agencies or CHHA's.

Living Trust

A living trust is a legal arrangement that allows property you transfer into the trust during your life to pass directly to the beneficiaries (recipients) after you die, without court involvement. The successor trustee—the person you appoint to handle the trust after your death—simply transfers ownership to the beneficiaries you named in the trust. Living trusts are also called "inter vivo trusts."

Living Will

A living will is a written document that specifies the types of medical treatment desired by an individual. A living will can be very specific or very general.
The most common statement in a living will may be stated as: If I suffer an incurable, irreversible illness, disease, or condition and my attending physician determines that my condition is terminal, I direct that life-sustaining measures that would serve only to prolong my dying be withheld or discontinued.
More specific living wills may include information regarding an individual's desire for services like analgesia (pain relief), antibiotics, hydration, feeding, and the use of ventilators or cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Long-term Home Health Care Program

Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County's Long-Term Home Health Care also known as Nursing Home Without Walls program, provides comprehensive, coordinated care in the home for the Medicaid eligible chronically ill and disabled who are qualified to enter a nursing home, but prefer to remain in their homes. In addition to receiving home nursing care, participants receive assistance from home health aides and are often provided with social day care, home-delivered meals and transportation to and from medical appointments.




A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Malignant cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. There are several main types of malignancy. Carcinoma is a malignancy that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs. Sarcoma is a malignancy that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue. Leukemia is a malignancy that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow, and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood. Lymphoma and multiple myeloma are malignancies that begin in the cells of the immune system. Central nervous system cancers are malignancies that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord. Also called cancer.

Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels programs are designed to meet the needs of people who are largely homebound. Under these programs, nutritious hot meals are delivered to patients for a nominal fee. For many people who are homebound, these meal deliveries provide not only the nutrition they need, but also the only human contact they may have that day.


Medicaid is a program funded jointly by the federal and state (and in some cases, city) governments. In New York, it is administered by New York State. People of all ages whose income and assets fall below a specified level can qualify for Medicaid coverage. Medicaid provides comprehensive medical coverage for all of its recipients, but because many health care providers do not accept Medicaid, access to medical care is often limited. For adults over the age of 65, the picture is somewhat different; these adults are generally covered by Medicare, and the vast majority of health care providers accept Medicare. Those who accept Medicare often also accept Medicaid for their older patients. In these cases, Medicaid provides coverage that fills the gaps in Medicare, while Medicare continues to provide basic medical care benefits.


Medicare is a national health insurance program designed primarily for seniors. Medicare is provided by the U.S. federal government; with a few exceptions, virtually every permanent resident of the United States who is 65 or older is eligible for Medicare, even non-citizens. There are two parts to Medicare, Part A and Part B. Part A pays for hospitalizations and for limited home and nursing home care. Part B pays for physicians, lab tests, and outpatient hospital care. There is a premium associated with each program. Part A premiums are waived for those who have fulfilled certain eligibility requirements (most permanent residents who have worked steadily in the United States and their spouses are eligible). Part B premiums must be paid by anyone who wishes to be covered under that portion of the Medicare program.

While Medicare covers the majority of most hospital and physician expenses, it also expects beneficiaries (Medicare's term for those it covers) to pay for a share of these expenses through a deductible and co-pays.

For patients in a nursing home (immediately following a hospital stay), Medicare covers the first 20 days and requires beneficiaries to pay a portion of the per day costs for the next 80 days. Medicare does not cover days in a nursing home beyond 100. Certified Home Health Care Agencies such as Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County can provide medical home health services such as intravenous drugs, oxygen therapy, nursing visits for wound care, injections, catheterization, colostomy care, administering oral medications, skilled therapy and some services of a home health aide.


Medigap insurance was designed to pay for many of the gaps in Medicare coverage. Ten kinds of Medigap policies are legally available in most states, including New York State. The number of policies actually available in a given part of New York State varies, however, with the insurers who offer such policies in a given county. Most popular Medigap policies cover Medicare's hospital and physician deductibles and pay for some home health care in addition to that which is covered by Medicare.


The time of life when a woman's ovaries stop producing hormones and menstrual periods stop. Natural menopause usually occurs around age 50. A woman is said to be in menopause when she hasn't had a period for 12 months in a row. Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, vaginal dryness, trouble concentrating, and infertility.

Mental Health 

A person's overall psychological and emotional condition. Good mental health is a state of well-being in which a person is able to cope with everyday events, think clearly, be responsible, meet challenges, and have good relationships with others.


A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer is used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. MRI makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or x-ray. MRI is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones. Also called magnetic resonance imaging, NMRI, and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging.

Multiple Sclerosis

A disorder of the central nervous system marked by weakness, numbness, a loss of muscle coordination, and problems with vision, speech, and bladder control. Multiple sclerosis is thought to be an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system destroys myelin. Myelin is a substance that contains protein and fat (lipid), serving as a nerve insulator and helping in the transmission of nerve signals.



National Cancer Institute 

The National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, is the Federal Government's principal agency for cancer research. The National Cancer Institute conducts, coordinates, and funds cancer research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to the cause, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cancer. Access the National Cancer Institute Web site at Also called NCI.

Nursing Home

A place that gives care to people who have physical or mental disabilities and need help with activities of daily. Living skills (such as taking a bath, getting dressed, and going to the bathroom) but do not need to be in the hospital.


A nurse is a health care worker licensed by the State of New York. There are two types of licensed nurses: Registered Nurses (RN's) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN's). RN's provide services such as developing a plan of care with the patient's doctor and in consultation with the patient and his or her family, administering medications (orally, by injection, or intravenously), and educating the patient or family on self-care methods. LPN's may provide most of the care that a registered nurse does, but they may not perform some of the consultative services that registered nurses provide, such as developing a plan of care.

Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner is a nurse who has undergone extensive advanced training after receiving a registered nursing degree. Nurse practitioners are licensed to perform many of the activities that only doctors have traditionally performed such as diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications. However, nurse practitioners are more restricted in their practices than doctors. For example, a nurse practitioner cannot perform surgery.

Nutritional Therapist (NT)

Nutritional therapists focus on assuring that patients adopt short- and long-term eating plans in order to maximize their health given their physical and medical condition(s).



Occupational Therapist (OT)

Occupational therapists work with patients to help them regain the skills they need to function in their day-to-day activities. For instance, an occupational therapist might teach a stroke patient how to dress, or recommend a grab bar be installed in the bathtub of a person who is becoming somewhat unsteady while bathing.


A doctor who specializes in treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation.

Oral Health

Refers to the mouth. It includes the lips, the lining inside the cheeks and lips, the front two thirds of the tongue, the upper and lower gums, the floor of the mouth under the tongue, the bony roof of the mouth, and the small area behind the wisdom teeth.


A condition that is marked by a decrease in bone mass and density, causing bones to become fragile.


An operation to create an opening (a stoma) from an area inside the body to the outside. Colostomy and urostomy are types of ostomies.


Health care quality indicators that gauge the extent to which healthcare services succeed in improving or maintaining satisfaction and patient health are known as outcomes.




An electronic device that is implanted in the body to monitor heart rate and rhythm. It gives the heart electrical stimulation when it does not beat normally. It runs on batteries and has long, thin wires that connect it to the heart. Also called artificial pacemaker and cardiac pacemaker.

Palliative Care

Care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease. The goal of palliative care is to prevent or treat as early as possible the symptoms of a disease, side effects caused by treatment of a disease, and psychological, social, and spiritual problems related to a disease or its treatment. Also called comfort care, supportive care, and symptom management.

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive disorder of the nervous system and continues for long periods of time, usually many years. Parkinson's disease affects a person's muscular coordination. Symptoms include tremor (shaking), stiffness in some muscles, slow movements, and problems with keeping normal posture. The disease is caused by the death of cells in one of the movement control centers of the brain. These nerve cells control body movement.

Patient Advocate

A person who helps a patient work with others who have an effect on the patient's health, including doctors, insurance companies, employers, case managers, and lawyers. A patient advocate helps resolve issues about health care, medical bills, and job discrimination related to a patient's medical condition. Cancer advocacy groups try to raise public awareness about important cancer issues, such as the need for cancer support services, education, and research. Such groups work to bring about change that will help cancer patients and their families.

Patients' Rights

Be informed of service available and their rights and responsibilities during the initial evaluation.
Receive appropriate services based on needs. Expect Visiting Nurse Service to provide safe, professional care at the level of intensity needed, without discrimination as to age, sex, race, creed, color, national origin, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

  • To be treated with consideration, respect and dignity, including the provision of privacy during care.
  • To maintain confidentiality of clinical records in accordance with legal requirements and to anticipate the organization will release information only with authorization or as required by law.
  • To have access to necessary professional services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and to receive reasonable continuity of care.
  • To be involved in their own care planning, including education of the same, from admission to discharge and to be informed in a reasonable time of anticipated termination and/or transfer of service.
  • To be informed of the nature and purpose of any technical procedure that will be performed including the benefits and burdens of such procedure.
  • To refuse all or part of the care/treatment to the extent permitted by law and to be informed of the expected consequences of said action.
  • To be informed in writing of rights under state law to formulate advance directives.
  • To have the agency comply with advance directives as permitted by state law and state requirements.
  • To be informed regarding the agency's policies for supporting the patients' decision on withholding resuscitative services and the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment as appropriate.
  • To decline participation in research or experimental treatment unless documented, voluntary informed consent was given.
  • To participate in consideration of ethical issues in the course of care.
  • To be referred to other agencies when appropriate and to be informed of any financial benefit to the referring agency.
  • To choose and communicate with their own health care provider(s).
  • To be informed of the ownership and control of Visiting Nurse Service and upon request if the agency's liability insurance will cover injuries to employees when they are in the patient's home and if it will cover theft or property damage that occurs while the patient is being treated.
  • To be informed of the extent to which payment for the home health care services may be expected from Medicare, Medicaid or any other payer.
  • To be informed of charges not covered by Medicare and/or responsibility for any payments that they may have to make.
  • To receive financial information relating to treatment costs orally and in writing before care is initiated and within 30 calendar days of the date the organization becomes aware of any changes.
  • To voice complaints/grievances about treatment or care that is furnished or regarding lack of respect for their property without reprisal and to be informed of the procedure to voice such complaints/grievances with the organization and to be informed of the NYS hotline, its purpose and hours of operation.

Personal Care Assistants

Personal care assistants are certified under New York State law. The scope of their services is essentially limited to providing assistance with ADL's and they cannot perform the health-related functions carried out by a home health aide (such as taking a patient's temperature). For people who simply need general (rather than medical) assistance, personal care assistants perform a valuable service.

Physical Therapist (PT)

Physical therapists help restore strength, flexibility, coordination and general function of patients who have been disabled by an accident or illness.

Plan of Care

Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County nurses and rehabilitation therapists follow a plan of care, which is a comprehensive description of a patient's health care problems and/or needs, established by the patient's doctor.  Clinical staff will update the doctor when there are any changes to the patient's condition so that the plan of care can be revised.

Power of Attorney

Power of attorney is a legal document giving one person (called an "agent" or "attorney-in-fact") the power to act for another person (the principal). The agent can have broad legal authority or limited authority to make legal decisions about the principal's property and finance. The power of attorney is frequently used in the event of a principal's illness or disability, or when the principal can't be present to sign necessary legal documents for financial transactions.

Prescription Drug Plan (PDP)

Everyone with Medicare, regardless of income, health status or prescription drugs used, can get some sort of prescription drug coverage. These plans gained momentum with the implementation of Medicare Part D in 2006.


The rhythmic beat of the arteries caused by the contractions of the heart.



Quality of Life

Quality of life is an important consideration in medical care and refers to the patient's ability to enjoy normal life activities. Some medical treatments can seriously impair quality of life without providing appreciable benefit, while others greatly enhance quality of life.


Quarantine is the period of isolation necessary to control the spread of infectious disease. Before the era of antibiotics, quarantine was one of the few available ways to stop the spread of infectious diseases. It is still employed as needed. The list of diseases that require quarantine in the US includes: cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, and viral hemorrhagic fevers and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).



Rehabilitation Therapist

Clinicians, such as physical, occupational and speech therapists, who provide restorative treatments for patients following an accident, illness or surgery.

Rehabilitation Therapy

Rehabilitation therapy services are normally ordered by a physician to help a patient recover from an illness or injury. These kinds of services are typically provided by physical, occupational and speech therapists.

Registered Nurse

A registered nurse is responsible for carrying out a physician's instructions and for providing nursing care to patients. A license to practice nursing is required in all states. To receive a license as a registered nurse, a person must have graduated from a nursing school that has been approved by the New York State Board for Nursing and passed a state board examination.

Respite Services

A service designed to provide relief to family caregivers who tend to the day-to-day needs of a sick or frail person. The respite period can be for a few hours, a day, or even longer, depending on the program. Many families find that occasional respite services are a helpful break from their daily care-giving responsibilities. Dependent on certain requirements, Medicare will pay for up to 80 hours of respite services per year.



Skilled Nursing Care

A level of care that can only be performed safely and correctly by a licensed nurse.

Skin Cancer

Cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin. There are several types of skin cancer. Skin cancer that forms in melanocytes (skin cells that make pigment) is called melanoma. Skin cancer that forms in the lower part of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) is called basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in squamous cells (flat cells that form the surface of the skin) is called squamous cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in neuroendocrine cells (cells that release hormones in response to signals from the nervous system) is called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin. Most skin cancers form in older people on parts of the body exposed to the sun or in people who have weakened immune systems.

Speech Therapist (ST)

Speech Therapists or Speech Language Pathologists help patients regain their ability to produce and understand speech as well as facilitate communication skills.

Social Worker

In the context of home care, social workers specialize in helping individuals cope with the medical, functional, emotional, psychological, personal relationship, environmental and financial challenges of living in their own homes. They are trained in counseling and accessing community services, whether those services are provided directly by the government or by community organizations.


There are two types of stroke: ischemic which occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery, disrupting blood and oxygen flow to the brain and a hemorrhagic stroke which occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, spilling blood into the brain. In both cases brain cells die and the person experiencing the stoke can lose function in the part of the body that's controlled by the affected area of the brain. Getting prompt medical attention can save a person's life, reduce permanent brain damage and increase the chances for a full recovery.




A drug used to prevent and to treat influenza virus infections. It blocks the release of the virus from infected cells. It is a type of antiviral agent. Also called oseltamivir phosphate.

TB (Tuberculosis)

A disease caused by a specific type of bacteria that spreads from one person to another through the air. TB can affect many parts of the body, but most often affects the lungs. A person may not have symptoms of TB for years, but they may appear when the patient becomes ill with a serious condition like diabetes, AIDS, or cancer. TB can usually be treated and cured with antibiotics. Also called tuberculosis.


The formation or presence of a thrombus (blood clot) inside a blood vessel.


The airway that leads from the larynx (voice box) to the bronchi (large airways that lead to the lungs). Also called windpipe

Trach Tube

A 2-inch- to 3-inch-long curved metal or plastic tube placed in a surgically created opening (tracheostomy) in the windpipe to keep it open. Also called tracheostomy tube.

Trans Fat

A type of fat that has certain chemical properties and is usually found in processed foods such as baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, shortening, margarine, and certain vegetable oils. Eating trans fat increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.


A procedure in which a person is given an infusion of whole blood or parts of blood. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient earlier and stored until needed. Also called blood transfusion.

Transitional Care

Support given to patients when they move from one phase of disease or treatment to another, such as from hospital care to home care. It involves helping patients and families with medical, practical, and emotional needs as they adjust to different levels and goals of care.


In medicine, a specific event that starts a process or that causes a particular outcome. For example, chemotherapy, painful treatments, or the smells, sounds, and sights that go with them may trigger anxiety and fear in a patient who has cancer. In allergies, exposure to mold, pollen or dust may trigger sneezing, watery eyes, and coughing.



A break on the skin, in the lining of an organ, or on the surface of a tissue. An ulcer forms when the surface cells become inflamed, die, and are shed. Ulcers may be linked to cancer and other diseases.


Ultrasound is a high-frequency sound wave. Ultrasound waves can be bounced off of tissues using special devices. The "echoes" are then converted into a picture called a sonogram. Ultrasound imaging allows individuals to get an inside view of soft tissues and body cavities, without using invasive techniques.

Ultraviolet Radiation

Invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun. Ultraviolet radiation that reaches the Earth's surface is made up of two types of rays, called UVA and UVB. Ultraviolet radiation also comes from sun lamps and tanning beds. It can cause skin damage, premature aging, melanoma, and other types of skin cancer. It can also cause problems with the eyes and the immune system. Skin specialists recommend that people use sunscreens that protect the skin from both kinds of ultraviolet radiation. In medicine, ultraviolet radiation also comes from special lamps or a laser and is used to treat certain skin conditions such as psoriasis, vitiligo, and skin tumors of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Also called UV radiation.

Urinary Tract

The organs of the body that produce and discharge urine. These include the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and




A substance or group of substances meant to cause the immune system to respond to a tumor or to microorganisms, such as bacteria or viruses. A vaccine can help the body recognize and destroy cancer cells or microorganisms.

Vacuum Assisted Closure (VAC)

Vacuum assisted closure (also called vacuum therapy, vacuum sealing or topical negative pressure therapy) is a medical procedure in which a vacuum is used to remove blood or fluid from a wound or operation site.

Vitals and Vital Statistics

A person's vitals or vital statistics refers to measures including blood pressure, temperature, height, weight, etc.



White Blood Cell Count

White blood cell count is the number of white blood cells in the blood. White blood cells are the infection-fighting cells in the blood and are distinct from the red (oxygen-carrying) blood cells. There are different types of white blood cells, but all types are included in the white blood cell count. The normal range for the white blood cell count varies between laboratories, but is usually between 4,300 and 10,800 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.


This document, which is usually prepared by an attorney, specifies how you want your property and assets to be divided and distributed after death. In the will, you will name an executor who will pay debts and taxes out of your estate and assure that your instructions are carried out. In the absence of a will, the state will decide how the property and assets will be divided, which can be a contentious process.

World Health Organization

A part of the United Nations that deals with major health issues around the world. The World Health Organization sets standards for disease control, health care, and medicines; conducts education and research programs; and publishes scientific papers and reports. A major goal is to improve access to health care for people in developing countries and in groups who do not get good health care. The headquarters are located in Geneva, Switzerland. Also called WHO.


A wound is an opening or cut in the skin. Normally, healthy skin that is intact acts as a barrier that helps prevent germs or foreign material from entering your body. When there's a break in the skin because of a wound, however, you become vulnerable to infection in the wound itself, as well as inside your body. How quickly a wound heals depends on several factors, including the size and depth of the wound, what caused it, how well you take care of it, your age, and the general state of your health. Whether you have a wound as a result of surgery, an injury or burn, diabetes, pressure ulcer problems or poor circulation, the wound requires special care. Proper wound care is critical to preventing infections and other serious complications. Depending on the nature of the wound, your doctor will suggest the best ways to keep it clean and well dressed and may prescribe medications to ease the pain or prevent infection.




An x-ray is a picture produced by exposing photographic film to x-rays (high-energy radiation). X-rays are used in medicine to help diagnose medical issues, such as broken bones and lung diseases.



Yeast Infection

A yeast infection is an overgrowth of yeast that can affect the skin, mouth (thrush), digestive tract, esophagus, vagina (vaginitis), and other parts of the body. Yeast infections occur most frequently in moist areas of the body. Diagnosis is by observation, and can be confirmed by a diagnostic test. Treatment is by topical or oral antifungal medications.

Yellow Fever

A disease caused by infection with the yellow fever virus, which is carried by mosquitoes. Symptoms include body aches, chills, fever, severe headache, weakness, and a yellow skin color. Bleeding, vomiting, and failure of the liver and other organs may occur in late stages of the disease.




Zinc is a mineral essential to the body. It is involved in the manufacture of protein (protein synthesis) and in cell division. Zinc is also a constituent of insulin, and is concerned with the sense of smell. Food sources of zinc include meat, particularly liver and seafood; eggs; nuts; and cereal grains. Deficiency of zinc is associated with short stature, anemia, increased pigmentation of skin, enlarged liver and spleen, impaired gonadal function, impaired wound healing, and immune deficiency. Too much zinc can cause gastrointestinal irritation (upset stomach), interfere with copper absorption and cause copper deficiency, and (like too little zinc) cause immune deficiency.

Zollinger-Ellison syndrome

A disorder in which tumors of the pancreatic islet cells produce large amounts of gastrin (a hormone), leading to excess acid in the stomach and, possibly, a peptic ulcer (ulcer of the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine).


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