There is so much terminology in the senior living industry that it can be confusing for consumers who are researching the options. While I understand the reasons behind the industry’s recent efforts to replace the term “continuing care retirement community” with “life plan community,” consumers now have yet another descriptor to add to the already overwhelming nomenclature.

Furthermore, since “life plan” sounds a lot like “lifecare,” I’ve observed many times that these two terms are being used incorrectly — not only among consumers, but even among sales and marketing staff representing the communities!

In this post I want to help you better understand the differences between each of these terms.

>> Related: Demystify Senior Living Terminology with Our Free Guide

Continuing care retirement community (CCRC)

Let’s start with CCRC, which stands for “continuing care retirement community.” Although the definition can vary from one state to another, generally speaking, CCRCs furnish housing and hospitality services for independent living, along with assisted living and/or nursing care, and other health-related services. They also require a residency contract that is effective for a period longer than one year, and often for the life of the individual.

If you have spent any time on our website, then you already know that CCRC residency contracts come in different forms. For the most part, these different contracts have trade-offs between what you pay today, while living independently and without the need of any care services, and what you will pay in the future, if you do require care services.

>> Related: A Primer on CCRC Residency Contracts

Life plan community

Now let’s look at the term “life plan community.” Some may ask how a life plan community is different from a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). The answer: It isn’t. These two terms mean the same thing.

Back in 2014, a task force called Project NameStorm (a joint project of LeadingAge and Mather LifeWays, two senior advocacy groups) was assembled to examine seniors’ views of the term “continuing care retirement community.” After two years of research and in-depth conversations, the task force landed on a new term that more-accurately represents the future of this particular senior living concept: life plan community.

The challenge has been getting everyone in the industry to adopt this new terminology. This has resulted in even more confusion. Many within the CCRC industry refer to their community as a life plan community, but most if not all states that regulate CCRCs still use the term “continuing care retirement community.” Therefore, from a marketing standpoint, the community uses the term “life plan community,” while the state regulating the community refers to it as a “continuing care retirement community.”

>> Related: Life Plan Community: A New Name for an Evolving Industry


Finally, let’s explore the term “lifecare.” To really understand what lifecare is, you have to understand the various residency contract structures offered by CCRCs (or life plan communities, whichever you choose to use).

Lifecare is a descriptive term for one specific type of CCRC/life plan contract. Sometimes a lifecare contract is also referred to as a Type A contract, usually at the state or regulatory level. Conceptually, lifecare contracts work a bit like long-term care insurance in the sense that residents pay a little more while living independently, all other things being equal, but their monthly service fee does not increase if they require care services in the future.

That said, lifecare contracts typically are not regulated as insurance contracts. In my home state of North Carolina, for instance, lifecare contracts — and all CCRCs, for that matter — are regulated by the Department of Insurance but are referred to as “quasi-insurance” products. They are not regulated exactly in the same way that long-term care insurance companies are, even though there are similarities.

>> Related: Equalized Pricing- A New Lifecare Contract Structure

Learning the lingo

The senior living industry has made great advancements in recent years, producing housing and care alternatives to meet many different needs. But as a result, a lot of new terms have evolved to differentiate between these senior housing and care options. It is understandable if you find it confusing or even overwhelming to try to keep all the jargon straight.

If you have ever felt like information on senior living and care options is written in a foreign language, we have the perfect resource for you! Visit our Ultimate Guide to Senior Living Terminology and Glossary.

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